A power match between Annapolis Mayor Dennis Callahan and the city's Housing Authority commissioners over how the agency should be run reached an impasse yesterday after the five commissioners rejected a demand from the mayor that they resign.
Callahan, claiming that the commissioners have been insensitive to tenant concerns, had asked for the mass resignations last Wednesday from the agency that manages 1,155 housing units subsidized by the city for poor residents. The request came after he met with three commissioners to discuss the housing agency's performance in general and specifically about problems associated with the city's Robinwood public housing project.
Bertina Nick, chairman of the housing commission, said the commissioners decided against resigning to prevent the mayor from filling the commission with his appointments and because mass resignations would imply that they had done something wrong. They sent a letter to Callahan yesterday telling him about their decision.
"He should have brought us in one at a time and asked one or two of us to resign," said Nick, who has been a city housing commissioner for 10 years. "But to ask all five of us to resign? I am a housing professional; that would have put a cloud over me."
Nick said Callahan's accusation that the commissioners are insensitive to tenant concerns "hurt" because she used to live in an Annapolis public housing project. "This thing about insensitivity . . . it has hit me doubly hard," she said.
Callahan said in an interview that his office has received numerous complaints about the operation of the city's public housing and that the issue became a priority recently when he found that 60 families were displaced from the Robinwood project while it undergoes rehabilitation.
"I feel that this present board of commissioners has lost its sensitivity," Callahan said. "The problem is reaching crisis proportions." He said public reaction will determine the fate of the commissioners. "If the problem is imagined, it will drown of its own weight," Callahan said.
Callahan, who took office Dec. 5, did not appoint any of the current housing authority commissioners. The commissioners are appointed by the mayor to five-year terms and are not paid for their work with the housing authority.
Callahan said that when the three commissioners he met with last Wednesday said they agreed with the decision to move out 60 families at once, he asked them to discuss the possibility of resigning at the housing authority meeting the next day.
Callahan said Nick refused to tell him what the commissioners discussed at that meeting. "It's a classic example of the tail trying to wag the dog," Callahan said.
Nick said yesterday that she refused to talk to Callahan about the commissioners' discussion because the commissioners had agreed to send him a letter about the meeting. "I was not being disrespectful to him," she said.
Delays in awarding contracts for the rehabilitation of the 150-unit Robinwood project caused the commission to relocate larger groups of tenants than is normal for comparable rehabilitation projects, Nick said. If the housing authority had not altered the usual process, she said, it might have lost the $5 million grant for the job from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"The places have to be renovated," Nick said. "We had to guarantee to the contractor that a certain number of units would be vacant at one time. I know it's an inconvenience.