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Housing Authority Goes On The Attack

Shannon's supporters claim critics motivated by race

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Harrison Shannon, the embattled CEO of the Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA), is digging in his heels. In the political wake created by a leaked report detailing management problems the CHA has had over the last few years, Shannon was rumored to have been considering stepping down from his position if he was able to negotiate a severance package that was to his liking.

But two sources say a crucial part of Shannon's potential departure was his bid to leave under positive circumstances, or, shall we say, circumstances that reflected positively upon his leadership.

CHA board members who've been pushing for Shannon's removal say they're happy to send Shannon on his way with positive accolades and a nice chunk of change, if that would induce him to leave without a messy public fight.

But it now appears that Shannon and other Charlotte black leaders may be poised to make a racial and/or partisan issue out of some board members' desires to see Shannon go.

On Friday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus President Eric Douglas, who is also on the CHA board, accused board members Kip Kiser and Ray Jones of taking part in a Republican plan to get rid of Shannon and privatize the authority or bring it under direct city control. The authority manages federal, state and local subsidized housing projects and initiatives for some of Charlotte's poorest families including the distribution of federally subsidized Section 8 rent vouchers. Aside from its board, which is appointed by the Charlotte City Council, Shannon and other housing authority employees don't answer directly to anyone.

Douglas said Kiser and Jones' motives for wanting to comb through the potentially embarrassing report were less than pure.

"I'm calling his ass out," said Douglas. "I find it hard to believe that Kip Kiser has poor black people's interests in his heart."

Kiser said Douglas and Shannon are "blowing a smokescreen" to divert public attention away from the findings of the report produced by Reznick, Fedder & Silverman (RF&S) as part of an ongoing attempt at internal reorganization by CHA.

As first reported in Creative Loafing, the report highlights much of the progress the agency has made to date, but sheds light on the bureaucratic chaos that has ruled CHA over the past few years.

The report's authors found that agency employees who should have served as a lifeline to Charlotte's elderly, poor and dying informed Reznick interviewers that there is "often no disciplinary action taken when an employee fails to do his/her job." It also found poor inventory and management controls in place, over-charging by contractors for housing repairs and chaotic waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers and public housing.

After Creative Loafing obtained a copy of the taxpayer-funded draft report, which CHA had initially refused to release to the public, Douglas wrote a letter to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory requesting that he endorse an investigation into how the report was leaked to the media.

This weekend, after McCrory refused to endorse the investigation, the Charlotte Observer printed a letter from Douglas suggesting that Shannon, who is African-American, had been targeted for criticism because of his race along with other local African-American leaders.

Shannon has hired civil rights attorney Julius Chambers to represent him in his negotiations with CHA, further fueling speculation that Shannon believes, or wants others to believe, that some board members are attempting to push him out because of his race. Shannon didn't return Creative Loafing's call for this story, but a CHA staff person did call to say that Shannon was out of the office and would eventually return our call.

The CHA board, meanwhile, may have some difficult questions to answer. Charlotte City Council member Don Lochman, a Republican, says he has asked City Manager Pam Syfert to bring the CHA board before the council in November to talk about the audit. But as verbal accusations fly through the media among Douglas, Shannon and the board, Lochman too fears that there is little he can do to get answers to the management questions the report raises.

"I am a little bit frustrated about what I can do," said Lochman." I don't expect that we are going to have a whole lot of city council people asking (the CHA board) questions."

Lochman says Douglas' claim that Republican council appointees are siding against Shannon as part of a Republican plot to privatize the authority or bring it under the city's direct control doesn't add up.

"That is so ridiculous that it's beyond the pale," said Lochman. I mean, what Republicans? Eric has a lively imagination. It sounds like Hillary Clinton talking about the vast rightwing conspiracy."

Either way, when asked why he would object to the Charlotte Housing Authority becoming an official city agency or department -- as is Neighborhood Development, which serves much of the same population -- or accepting some oversight from city officials, Douglas didn't have an answer.

"I haven't looked at the pluses or minuses of that," said Douglas.


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