Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall is to be applauded for his recent appointment of a public housing tenant as a commissioner on the county's long-troubled housing authority. The appointment not only relieves pressure on the administration, it is linked to other progressive steps.
Within weeks of assuming office, Mr. Neall was stung by loud, unanticipated criticism for failing to name minorities to leadership posts in government. That criticism was compounded by the continuing struggles of the housing authority, which has been derided for years by just about everyone for its inept handling of the ever-increasing demand for affordable housing.
After the last tenant-commissioner resigned mid-term in the spring, the authority's leadership complained that no qualified tenant could be found as a replacement. Not so, replied tenants from several public housing communities. The exchange was evidence of the depth of the misunderstanding.
Almost immediately, Mr. Neall told a reporter point-blank: "There will, over time, be tenant representation." With no advanced notice or fanfare, he went to a tenant council meeting himself and found three candidates, eventually selecting Zadia Dailey, a nursing aide who has lived in Pasadena's Freetown complex since 1984. One can only hope her insights will sensitize other board members to the needs of tenants and dispel the board's apparent belief that public housing residents are incapable of conducting their own affairs.
Mr. Neall also has gained the assistance of a coalition of county black leaders calling itself the Black Political Forum, which became audible and visible on the housing authority issue. Adroitly, he has asked the forum's leadership to help in finding minority and female applicants for vacancies on some 30 county advisory boards and commissions.
Further, Mr. Neall is behind efforts to more effectively focus county government's resources on public housing matters. He has created what is being catchily called the "Dream Team" -- a group of citizens with expertise in bettering the lives of public housing children. In addition, Mr. Neall is pursuing minority applicants for the few management positions in the Arundel Center that will open up in the near future.
This is a positive agenda that Mr. Neall is fashioning. It must continue, though, if the Anne Arundel government is to, in the words of a Neall aide, "reflect the rich diversity that our county offers."