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Anger between board, residents reverberates through Calexico Housing Authority update on 5H program

March 30, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — At Thursday's Calexico Housing Authority board meeting, Antonio Ramirez, the president of the Casas del Sol resident management corporation, was told he was "impertinent" and cut off halfway through his allotted five minutes of public comment.

Ramirez was cut off by the chairman of the authority board, John Romo.

Romo also told Ema Silva, secretary of the Housing Authority Resident Council, that she was "impertinent" and banged his gavel during her speech.

Romo said the public comments were not in keeping with the rules of decorum outlined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

In a meeting filled with raised voices and accusations, the Housing Authority board heard an update on the 5H homeownership plan and voted against paying for an ad placed by members of the Housing Authority Resident Council.


Romo said he called Ramirez and Silva "impertinent" because they were improper in addressing the board.

Ramirez and Silva said it was an act of free speech and demanded they be heard.

Romo called for a recess after interrupting Ramirez and took another recess later in the meeting when Ramirez stood in front of Commissioner Jose Quiroz, moved his nameplate out of the way and had a conversation with him while Romo was speaking.

During one of the earlier recesses, commissioners Jesus "Chuy" Solano and Manuel Ayala threatened to walk if Romo wouldn't allow people to speak.

Romo acknowledged that legally any member of the public is allowed five minutes to address the board, but he held up HUD regulations that outlined the decorum that should rule the proceedings.

Maria Gasca, who spoke after Ramirez and Silva, told Romo when he used the gavel on Silva he was disrespecting the people who made him chairman.

"He is sitting there because of us. Unfortunately we didn't provide him with a chair that fits him. The one he is sitting in is obviously too big," she said.

After the recesses, the authority board worked its way through the agenda.

One of the items was an update of the implementation of the 5H homeownership plan, a plan that would allow residents of Casas del Sol to buy the homes they now rent that has been conditionally approved.

Ayala asked why he hadn't been given an official letter of approval from HUD yet. Quiroz wanted to know if a letter even existed.

Lupita Rios, executive director of the Housing Authority, said a letter of approval from HUD to the Housing Authority did not exist.

She said the letter "should have been sent by HUD but has not yet been received."

Earlier in the month, Mayor Javier Alatorre received a letter from HUD that said the plan was conditionally approved.

With that conditional approval the authority hired a consultant, Ed Goodwin of Atlanta-based Goodwin and Associates, to begin the process of selling the homes.

Rios said Goodwin contacted local banks during his week-long visit to Calexico in an attempt to secure funding for the purchase of the homes.

She added Goodwin will be providing monthly progress reports to the Housing Authority and residents.

In the letter of conditional approval sent by Bob Cook, HUD director of the Office of Public Housing in Los Angeles, Cook stated the Calexico Housing Agency is "obligated to carry out the approved 5H home ownership program without modification, except with written approval from our local HUD office."

On Nov. 2, Rios stated in a letter to HUD she would not sign off on the 5H plan until Cook "responded to the request sent to them in April 2000."

That request had been for the "transfer of the annual contributions contract to the replacement housing project and the allocation of Section 8 vouchers for the relocation of families under the plan."

Both of these requests were denied by Cook on Nov. 7.

Solano and some residents of Casas del Sol said such delays contributed to the eight years it took to get the conditional approval. They said they will bring up these issues at the public hearing on the authority that will be conducted during the April 3 City Council meeting.

In other matters brought before the authority board, Gasca and Silva asked the board to reimburse them for a newspaper advertisement.

They requested the Housing Authority pay for the ad because it was placed in response to an ad taken out by four commissioners of the Housing Authority board — Romo, Isabel Aguilar, Quiroz and Gloria Rodriguez — and paid for with authority funds.

The ad, according to Quiroz, was run to tell the City Council the truth regarding the charges of "incompetence and mismanagement" leveled at the authority board.

Gasca, Silva and the two commissioners of the authority board who had not been a part of the original ad, Ayala and Solano, recently ran a rebuttal and paid for it "out of pocket."

Romo said he would not vote to pay for the ad because the content of the rebuttal was damaging to the authority board.

"I will not vote for something detrimental to the board. I thought the ad was hurtful and I consider it an ineligible expense," Romo said,

The attorney for the authority, Steve Walker of El Centro, said the board isn't authorized to be "critical of itself."

Quiroz said he supported the idea of residents running an ad and said the board would be happy to pay for it. Romo agreed, but he and Quiroz stipulated that the content of the ad should be positive and reflect all the constructive things on which the board has been working.

Addressing Gasca and Silva, Quiroz said, "We can't keep going back and forth. We know we have to improve communication with the residents. It's what we all want."

Gasca said, "It's what we want, too."

Quiroz recommended the item be brought back so residents could tout the upcoming election of the Resident Council or the progress of the plan to sell the Casas del Sol homes.

The board voted 3-2 to not reimburse anyone for the ad.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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