NWGHA cites diversity issues with proposed appointments

Friday, April 12, 2024–12:00 p.m.

-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-

This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com

Citing what they characterized as a breakdown in communication and a lack of diversity, members of the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority Board questioned proposed appointments by the City Commission this week.

The committee on committees, chaired by Commissioner Randy Quick, recommended the appointments of Billy Cooper and Tabitha Helms at Monday’s Rome City Commission meeting. They would replace long-serving board members Hilda Curtis and Jim Keaten.

“This came as a shock to us,” NWGHA Board Chair Lee Hight said Thursday during a called meeting. “Neither of the two board members (the City Commission) proposed to us are African American. That’s concerning to us.”

Curtis is currently the only Black member appointed to the board by the City Commission.

It’s also a matter that’s caught the attention of the Rome-Floyd NAACP. Several members of the organization voiced their concerns at the Thursday meeting.

A majority of housing authority residents are Black, and the NAACP members cited a perceived lack of diversity on the housing authority board.

“We have a large percentage of Black residents and I’m able to connect with them,” Curtis said during the meeting. She also said she wasn’t contacted about the potential of being removed from the board while Keaten was.

The board currently consists of seven members, although it was expanded to eight on Thursday to include a Cave Spring representative.

Five are appointed by the Rome City Commission: Hight, Michael Taylor, Mary Helen Heaner, Curtis and Keaten. Lillie Dyar represents Rockmart and Betty Sue Hickman will represent Cave Spring. The final member is a resident of a housing authority home and is appointed, by each commission, on a rotating basis.

Most of the Housing Authority board members are long-serving, some — like Curtis — have served on the board for decades.

“The experience we lose is going to be devastating,” Taylor said. He said each of the current board members have specific areas of expertise contributing to a working whole.

“Also, I think (Curtis) is the smartest person I’ve ever met,” he said.

Responding, Quick lauded the credentials of the candidates his committee put forward and noted that, when volunteer applications are submitted, the applicants choose which boards they’d be interested to serve on.

“Sometimes new blood is welcome,” Quick said. However, he added that the candidates’ names were entered on first reading and the City Commission would have a discussion prior to any vote to confirm appointments.

Referring to the massive scope of the housing authority’s mission, Executive Director Sandra Hudson said it will take at least two years for any new board member to get their feet under them and be able to contribute.

It also comes at a time, board members said, when they’re looking for a replacement for Hudson, who announced her retirement last year.

In the past, the City Commission would ask the housing authority board for their recommendations and Hight said it’s a process that has worked.

“Why, all of a sudden, have things changed without consulting us, without contacting us?,” Hight asked. “I don’t even know (the nominees for the post).”

City Commissioners Wayne Robinson and Elaina Beeman were both present at the housing authority meeting and encouraged board members to come to the next City Commission meeting on April 22.

Beeman, who also works for the housing authority as a project coordinator directing residents toward further educational opportunities, said she was surprised Monday.

“I don’t know what happened,” Beeman told the board. “I don’t understand why we are going backwards. I hope a positive change is coming.”

Local Weather