Several months ago, attorney John T. Brady read the local government observer reports in his League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria monthly newsletter. It reported PHA meetings had been moved or cancelled, often without notice. Agendas and basic information weren’t available. The website was out of commission.
Peoria Housing Authority Executive Director Jackie Newman channels the late commentator Paul Harvey by noting “the rest of the story” can surprise you.
Might be bureaucratic nonsense. Might be porn. Just asking about it can make a difference.
“I learned that the LWV wasn’t getting the information that it had requested from the PHA, and I thought that it was fairly important stuff that had been requested,” Brady says.
Current LWVGP president Connie Romanus has been the frustrated PHA observer for the last couple of years. Even when meetings were held at the specified time and place, the PHA board might not have a quorum to get business done.
One of her predecessors, Mary Jane Crowell, notes communication issues are not new and wonders about the commitment. The PHA has a person present to keep minutes, but she thinks a staff person should be able to keep up with the website and posting information, as well.
“I find it hard to criticize, but I also know that anyone can do what needs to be done in a timely and excellent manner. That does not seem to happen with the PHA administration of business,” Crowell says. “I always thought their business was done with integrity, but then things would happen that would make it seem questionable. I do know that capable and wise board members would seem to disappear in a somewhat short time.”
Brady saw no reason the PHA shouldn’t provide such basics. Information about public bodies — like notice of meetings/minutes, keeping verbatim records of closed sessions — is required under the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Questions about public information — like why such items aren’t posted — must get a response within five to 21 days under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Brady used his own template to file.
“But it’s a fairly simple process for almost anyone,” he says. “It would probably just take others a little longer than it took me.”
He didn’t get everything he wanted when he wanted it. But a follow-up letter copied to the PHA board attorney prompted explanations: Short staff. Missing personnel. Multiple issues to address.
Newman added a less-traditional explanation.
“When someone takes your website and directs it into a porn site, you have to shut it down,” she says. “And that’s what happened. Our website is now up and running.”
Communication is better. Romanus says local operations are improving and there is “a bit more transparency.”
Meeting minutes are posted for the past year, though some don’t display. Agendas are available for most of 2019. The Dec. 2 meeting is listed, without a time. There is a list of current board members and their terms, although no information about Newman. Romanus notes the administrative assistant needs approval to post on the website. It’s not always a smooth process, “but definitely better!”
Hopefully, the public will keep looking for the rest of the story. PHA board chairman Carl Cannon says he welcomes the scrutiny.
“That exposure helps keep people honest,” he says.