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Mayor accused of meddling in housing authority operations

CHRA director alleges improper intervention in eviction proceedings

David Colburn
Posted 3/2/22

COOK- The oft-strained relationship between Cook Housing and Redevelopment Authority (CHRA) Executive Director Reed Erickson and Cook city officials soured further this past week when Erickson …

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Mayor accused of meddling in housing authority operations

CHRA director alleges improper intervention in eviction proceedings

Posted

COOK- The oft-strained relationship between Cook Housing and Redevelopment Authority (CHRA) Executive Director Reed Erickson and Cook city officials soured further this past week when Erickson publicly accused Cook Mayor Harold Johnston of seeking to block evictions of three residents at the apartments operated by CHRA.
Erickson was on the agenda at his request to review the accuracy of past city council meeting minutes related to the CHRA, including how and when certain board members were appointed.
Mayor Johnston is on record that it is his responsibility as mayor to appoint members of the CHRA board, with council approval, and that neither he nor members of the council are to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the housing authority. Erickson asked for reconfirmation of that position before raising an issue that he said came up at a Feb. 9 meeting of the CHRA board. Johnston, who appointed himself to the board in December to cover an unexpired term and again in January for a regular term, was present at the meeting.
“And then I just had clarification, if the mayor wants to talk about this, about a statement you made at the Feb. 9 HRA board meeting,” Erickson said. “If you want to talk about it here or come into the office, it’s up to you.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Johnston responded.
“The statement that you made in the meeting, it was about the Sellman law firm,” Erickson said. Sellman Borland Simon, of Hibbing, is the CHRA’s law firm. “The question to you in the minutes, because we taped them, was if you ever contacted the Sellman law firm. And what was your response?”
“That I hadn’t,” Johnston said.
“Then we invited you into the office and you said the same thing over and over again,” Erickson continued.
Then Erickson pulled out a piece of paper and levied his allegation that Johnston, indeed, had contacted the Sellman law firm.
“If I showed you a screen shot of your phone call and caller ID from the Sellman law firm, a statement from our attorney that says it was you who called – I have it,” Erickson said. “If that isn’t interference, trying to stop evictions of three of your friends, which you stated in a previous city council meeting as mayor you won’t interfere, this is documented evidence that you did it.”
Johnston asked to see the document Erickson was referring to, and Erickson distributed copies to council members and the press as well.
The header of the document was the email address and name of Jaclyn Corradi Simon, one of the Sellman Borland Simon partners. Apparently sent Feb. 10 to Erickson, the accompanying text, signed “Jackie,” stated in part, “I believe it was definitely the Mayor who called me. Here is the proof of the incoming phone call on 12-17-21. The person I spoke to spoke slow and deliberate and the caller ID was Harold Johnston.”
At that point, CHRA Housing Manager Paula Erickson spoke up.
“We even have a phone call in the voicemail from the attorney stating that she spoke to you. You identified yourself and it’s your home phone number that showed up on her phone,” she said. “This phone call was made less than 24 hours after you appointed yourself to the HRA board.”
Johnston was firm in his response.
“Well, I’ll chase it down, but I didn’t make that call,” he said.
Both Ericksons commented that interference in various matters, including this one, is making it harder for them to do their jobs.
“We have no good working relationship, it seems, with the city or sometimes our own HRA board because of the constant interference, and it’s only getting worse,” Paula Erickson said.
Council member Jody Bixby, who also serves as the council’s representative on the CHRA board, attempted to reframe the discussion to focus on communication issues.
“So, Reed, what are you proposing for better relationships between us and the HRA, from yourself and from the city?” she asked. “What’s your plan on your end and what would you like to see from the city? I guess that’s where we start, on communication.”
Erickson responded
“The point I’m trying to make here is that you don’t follow protocol,” he said. “You don’t let people within the city know that there’s openings (on the CHRA board). Let people have an opportunity to get on our board instead of self-appointing people or appointing friends. It isn’t working. I’ve asked for a mediator. I’ve asked for people to resign because of their actions, board members to resign and start the process over. It falls on the board, but it’s going to go much further than this. It’s pretty hard to deny some of this stuff, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“So, I’m hearing you say that it’s all put on the board’s behavior and none of your own,” Bixby said. “So, you’re not taking any accountability and it’s all on the board.”
“I never said that,” Erickson said.
But Bixby was quick to answer.
“We get tired of you sitting here and saying the board, the board (unintelligible),” Bixby said. “These are people who are giving of their time free. We are there to make improvements in our city, and then we end up justifying our actions, plus we’re taped. I think to myself, ‘I hope I stated that right, did I say that right? Will it be twisted?’ I’m on a board to do well, freely giving my time, and now I’m being taped? I feel like I’m on trial, like I need a lawyer standing behind me with all these rules and regulations. If you’re in charge of that business and you’re the leader of that board, part of the responsibility is the way people are treated. That’s where it starts. It’s like having a good boss.”
Erickson repeated his request to bring in a mediator to look at the actions of both sides, ended his presentation, and was preparing to leave as conversation continued.
Johnston said he had “no recollection of making that call.” He reaffirmed his position that he did not make the call, while also acknowledging that the Sellman attorney said he did.
The suggestion that the call could have been a telemarketer, using Johnston’s phone number, was quickly shot down by Erickson.
“It’s caller ID, and not only that, here’s what’s really ironic. You questioned three evictions. One of them we hadn’t started the process yet. So, you were told this other individual was going to be evicted. Again, I didn’t cause this. This was brought to our attention by our attorney in a phone call after the mayor called her. I didn’t search for this.”
And with that, the Ericksons left the meeting and the council moved on to its next agenda item.

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