Hope Housing Authority turns down City of Hope's offer of a meeting to resolve rubbish pick up, trash bag pickup issues

Hope Housing Authority Assistant Executive Director Zach Hicks (standing at right) presents information to two of the four members (President Clifford Knowles seated at left and Commissioner Rebekah Moore seated in the middle) of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners attending their regular meeting September 15.

The Hope Housing Authority Board of Commissioners decided in its regular meeting this past Thursday, September 15 to turn down an offer from the city of Hope for a meeting between representatives of the city of Hope and the board. The Commissioners agreed with the Housing Authority’s Assistant Executive Director, Zach Hicks, that a meeting would not be helpful in resolving disagreements between the Authority and the city over trash bag drop off and rubbish pick up.

Following the noontime meeting, Assistant Executive Director of the Housing Authority Zach Hicks sent an email, dated September 15 at 2:38 p.m., to Hope City Manager Catherine Cook turning down the offer by Cook to hold discussions between chosen representatives of the two boards to negotiate and possibly come to an agreement on how trash bags are to be dispersed by the city’s Sanitation Department to Hope Housing Authority tenants and how those tenants can have their rubbish picked up by the same department. Hicks shared this email with SWARK.Today.

Hicks’ email said the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners “believes the original Cooperation Agreement between the City of Hope and The Housing Authority of The City of Hope states what HACOH properties and Residents are entitled to as it relates to Public Services.”

The Cooperation Agreement referred to here was agreed to in 1963 by then-leadership of both the Housing Authority and the City of Hope. Regarding the provision of public services to Housing Authority tenants, it says, “The Municipality without cost or charge to the Local Authority or the tenants of such Project (other than the payments in Lieu of Taxes) shall: Furnish or cause to be furnished to the Local Authority and the tenants of such Project public services and facilities of the same character and to the same extent as are furnished from time to time without cost or charge to other dwellings and inhabitants in the Municipality.”

Housing Authority Board of Commissioners’ Discussion

The meeting Thursday began with the commissioners discussing a financial report for August, then a vacancy report showing 18 vacancies, with 15 of those requiring work prior to new tenants moving in.

Before turning to the agenda item on the dispute with the city of Hope, Hicks distributed copies of the most recent correspondence by email. In an email of Thursday September 8 at 10:42 a.m. from City Manager Cook to Housing Authority Executive Director Leola Graves, Cook says the Hope Board of Directors requests Graves to set up a meeting “to include representation from the City Board of Directors and the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.” City Board of Directors member Linda Clark had been designated the city board’s representative.

Then Cook invites Graves “and a representative from the Hope Housing Authority Board to discuss these current issues to a meeting at Hope Fair Park Community Center at 2:00 p.m. on September 13, 2022.”

Cook adds that Graves should “feel free to invite other member(s) of your staff as you feel necessary” and indicates she has invited Assistant City Director/Hope Police Chief J.R. Wilson and Sanitation Department Superintendent Nathaniel Holyfield.

She ends by saying that if Graves intends to bring legal counsel, to alert Cook 48 hours in advance “so that I can make sure [City Attorney] Randy Wright] can attend.”

The emailed response of Zach Hicks, sent at 12:20 p.m. the same day, turns down the September 13 meeting date because “we will have auditors on site all week.” He adds that he would like to give the Hope Housing Authority Board of Directors a chance to “discuss the results of the most recent City of Hope Board of Directors meeting” at its regular meeting time of September 15 “and let them select their representative for the eventual meeting you propose. We will want your legal counsel to attend.”

The email ends with a pledge to provide a prompt report after the Housing Authority Commissioners meet. 

During that meeting, Hicks summarized events since the last Housing Authority meeting took place August 18. He said since that meeting, a Housing Authority tenant attempted to have rubbish picked up at Mockingbird Circle, but was told the rubbish would need to be carried from near their front door to the streetside, a distance Hicks measured to be 318 feet.

Referring the commissioners to a screen display of an aerial photo of Mockingbird Circle and its surroundings he compared that distance from the tenant’s front door to the streetside to the distances between surrounding houses not owned by the Housing Authority and their respective street sides. “If we work to get equitable treatment, all these privately held residences over here are 33 feet, 29 feet 28 feet from their front door, approximately to the curb,” Hicks said.

Hicks said he could see no excuse for the city not driving its rubbish pick-up vehicles into the Mockingbird Circle area to pick up rubbish piled closer to the Housing Authority tenants’ front doors since the weights and sizes of these vehicles were no different from that of the regular city garbage trucks that are allowed to drive up into the area or Housing Authority trucks transporting mowers. He also said that since the ordinance pertaining to the matter specifies “curbside” rather than streetside as the location for rubbish awaiting pickup, he could not see why the city was still refusing to provide the same services to Housing Authority residents as for other residents.

“They want us to alter our agreement [of 1963] in some way, to make a concession, to do it their way. And it really doesn't seem like there's any incentive for us to do that. Because a tenant is a customer of the City of Hope. They should be taking care of their customer. It shouldn't be the Housing Authority’s responsibility to dictate to the City of Hope, how they provide the service to their customers. And we wouldn't, except for the fact that they're not providing equal service to our tenants, as they do for everybody else.” Hicks said.

About the city’s proposal for a meeting of representatives of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and representatives of the city, Hicks wondered whether it would affect the quality of services HA tenants receive. “At this point, I’m losing optimism,” he said.

Commissioner Sam Bradford asked regarding the proposed meeting, “What’s on the agenda? What’s to be accomplished?” He added that the idea of a smaller board of members from the city board and from the HA board seemed needless when members of each could go to each entity’s respective open meetings.

He also voiced concern about transparency. “If you have a meeting such as that, there wouldn’t necessarily be an opportunity for anybody to attend or really know what came out of it.”

Bradford cited a problem with the idea of representatives of the HA board being involved. "I don’t like the idea of the city talking to me as an individual on a board issue. I don’t make any decisions as an individual we make collectively as a board.”

Bradford also brought up the question of whether the Housing Authority as a federally funded entity could spend those funds on responsibilities assigned to the city. He then asked whether at the city board meeting on Tuesday September 6, anyone representing the Housing Authority would have been allowed to speak.

Commissioner Moore said this would have been allowed possibly at the end of the meeting but also during discussion of an agenda item. Indeed, during the September 6 meeting, Mayor Don Still, told by Hope’s GIS and Technology Coordinator Darrell Allen that Housing Authority Executive Director Leola Graves was watching the meeting by Zoom face-to-face video software, asked Graves to turn on her microphone and speak. But he received no response.

“Once I became aware of the meeting, ultimately what it boiled down to was I didn’t see the need to attend the meeting,” Hicks said. “Because they make no effort to attend one of these [Housing Authority Board of Commissioners] meetings. So if I walk in there as a citizen, with just the intent to observe and I get called out and brought into the meeting, then I’m having to answer things in an official capacity that maybe I wouldn’t necessarily be prepared to answer.”

Hicks also said he was satisfied the Housing Authority executive leadership and the Board of Commissioners had made clear the city what their concerns were. “This started in October of last year. It really escalated in written form in April of this year. None of those letters got brought before the board for the board make a decision. Each one of those letters was rejected by the City Manager herself as meritless.”

Hicks said that at this point, he notified the commissioners and got Little Rock attorney Jim Jackson to draft a letter stating the HA’s case. Only when the letter was received by the city, Hicks said, did the HA receive concessions and that only took place, Hicks said, because of the involvement of the attorney, though what was said in the letter sent by Jackson was not materially different from correspondence the HA had already been sending to the city.

Hicks then said he was in agreement with Commissioner Bradford on inviting the city board to get a place on the next Housing Authority Board of Commissioners’ meeting agenda so the city “can address you all collectively, not individually.” On that occasion, Hicks pointed out, recordings would be made and minutes compiled. “Any decision made . . . would be in writing that this is the decision they took.”

Commissioner Moore agreed. “To move past this standstill, that seems the only way we can come to a conclusion on this matter.”

Commissioner Bradford commented, “I don’t think this should be us against them” and added that he had not heard any one from the city contesting the contents of Jim Jackson’s letter or Graves and Hicks’ correspondence on the basis of fact.

Hicks said the city hadn’t contested the Housing Authority on any point of fact but on the basis of semantics. “They want to suggest that dwelling doesn’t mean dwelling. They want to suggest that dwelling in our cooperation agreement does not mean the same thing as dwelling within their ordinance. Once again, us versus them not necessarily the intent, but when you have a disagreement, that’s why there’s judges. We ultimately have to get to a point where somebody is right and that nobody concedes.

“We’re feeling like the language in our cooperation agreement—and I have said this for three and a half weeks, you’re probably tired of hearing it—if there is one house within the city limits of Hope, Arkansas that gets service that is in excess of what apartment complexes get, which is where this started, they’re saying we’re apartment complexes, they threw out there’s 864 apartments within the city of Hope—they keep trying to designate us as somewhat of a less than our cooperation agreement designates us us.

“If there’s one house in the city limits of Hope that doesn’t have to walk their items 300 feet to the curbside and doesn’t have to pick up their trash bags at the city shop, then that’s the level of service that Housing Authority tenants are entitled to.”

Hicks said the Housing Authority leadership would not accept any deal with the city that did not make sure its tenants received the standard of service specified in the Cooperation Agreement. “Anything less than that is not a workable solution.”

In response to a question by Commissioner Bradford of whether the intent of the city in attempting to schedule the meeting between representatives of the Housing Authority and the city was to negotiate, Hicks said the HA had no authority to negotiate down what its customers would receive. “All we’re trying to do is be their voice and provide the documentation that we have as an agency to their boards. It seems like in 1963 they considered equality more than what they’re trying to do in 2022.”

Commissioner Hollis said the issue in the past was that the 1963 Cooperation Agreement was not available but now that it is, the dispute comes down to whether or not HA tenants are receiving what they’re paying for when they pay their $18.80 sanitation charge to the city.

Commissioner Bradford said that he would never vote for a new cooperation agreement with the city that allowed a lesser standard of services, because “fair is fair and if it’s right for some of our citizens, it’s right for all of our citizens,” though he acknowledged “I’m getting a little bit tired of trashbag-gate.”

On the other hand, Bradford pointed out the city had conceded in its Tuesday September 5 meeting to providing trashbags to those who choose to pick them up and arranging trash bags to be provided to anyone who could not pick them up. This was what City Manager Cook said was an interim solution pending a permanent solution.

HA Board of Commissioners President Knowles said he had had citizens ask him what the difference between an apartment and a duplex mattered to how trash bags are distributed and rubbish collected, and also why the dispute could not be settled.

Executive Director Graves said the only issue she saw here is whether the city wants to follow the 1963 Cooperative Agreement. “I just don’t see it being an issue we [the Housing Authority] can resolve. They [the city] can resolve it.” She also said that eventually, if the Federal Department of Housing and Urban development gets involved, it would not be good for the city.

The rest of the meeting was taken up deciding how the next communication to the city would read, whether a special meeting of the HA Board should be called for the purpose of hearing a presentation from the city or city officials should be invited to a regular HA Board meeting. The question of whether to communicate through attorneys was also discussed, with Commissioner Bradford saying he would not feel comfortable talking to the city’s attorneys but would prefer any attorneys involved speak to each other.

Finally, Hicks said he would draft a letter expressing the board’s insistence on the terms of the 1963 Cooperative Agreement and inviting city officials to the next regular meeting.

The Housing Authority’s Email to the City

Hicks then sent an email to Cook one hour after the HA Board of Commissioners meeting p.m. that invites Cook and other city leaders to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners’ next regular meeting: “If City Officials would like to attend and address the Board, you are certainly more than welcome to attend. Our Board of Commissioners meet on the third Thursday of every month, making October 20, 2022, the first available date to include City Officials on the agenda. Please let us know in advance if you wish to be on the agenda for the October meeting.”

As of 4:05 p.m. today, Hicks told SWARK.Today no response from City Manager Cook to the email has been received by the Housing Authority.