CAIRO, IL (KFVS) - The Alexander County Housing Authority Board approved a new executive director on Tuesday morning.
Current Sesser Mayor Jason Ashmore will be the new executive director.
Three of the five board members were at the meeting and approved his appointment.
No "Final Approval"
In the final round of the hiring process, the Housing and Urban Development office in Chicago approved eight candidates with either a "yes" or a "maybe."
Of those eight, the board selected Ashmore as their candidate of choice, but HUD then denied final approval of Ashmore as the newly appointed director.
On Tuesday, the board chose to hire him anyway.
"We feel like he's the most qualified candidate for the position and we don't understand why HUD did not give final approval," said Board Chairman John A Clarke at the meeting.
In a letter now being sent to HUD to explain the board's decision, Clarke cited the board's preliminary declaration of Ashmore's application as viable candidate to be sufficient approval to warrant appointment by the board.
When Clarke adjourned the meeting, more than a dozen residents and community members began voicing concerns and their disagreements with the decision.
The Board immediately left the room, following the meeting.
Residents and activists speak out
Ashmore was at the meeting and stayed to answer housing residents' questions and criticisms for roughly a half an hour, until the crowd dispersed.
"HUD rejected you!" said Cairo resident Linda Frazier after the meeting adjourned. "HUD is the one who gives the money to the tenants, so you're saying that these tenants don't even matter."
"This has been going on for 20 or 30 years," said Cairo City council member Constance Williams. "[Ashmore] has no understanding of what our issues are and how to make this thing better."
"My position as mayor of Sesser is a part-time position," Ashmore told reporters. "The work that needs to be done here at the ACHA is my first and foremost priority, and I will do everything in my power to restore the health and safety standards demanded of it by residents."
"It doesn't matter to me if it's the most difficult job I've ever faced in my life," Ashmore continued. "I'm looking forward to working as a team with everyone, and I'm looking forward to moving things forward. But the only way we'll be able to do so is with full cooperation from everyone."
Ashmore's appointment comes after Cairo's mayor called for two members of board to step down.
Board Members under scrutiny
Mayor Tyrone Coleman said he called for the resignation of the Alexander County Housing Authority Board Chairman Andy Clarke and board member Monica Smith on Jan. 14, 2016, but Clarke said they plan on continuing their duties on the board.
Clarke and Smith were two of the three members who appeared at Tuesday's vote, out of the five member board.
Coleman said he called for the Clarke's resignation because "of the previous chairman on the board's misuse of funds and the political and social affiliation with former Mr. Wilson, the former director."
Clarke said it would be a personal decision to leave board. Clarke said he still has four and a half more years on the board and started on the board January of 2016.
FBI - assisted, criminal investigation
Following complaints, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted a detailed investigation in 2014 on the properties and their management.
Findings show "significant misuse of funds" by the ACHA, and explain that financial records reveal the ACHA to be in violation of several state and federal laws.
According to the federal investigation into the Alexander County Housing Authority, money that was supposed to go to more than 400 Cairo, Ill. residents went to traveling, training and consulting fees instead.
A separate investigation into past mismanagement brought Federal Bureau of Investigations agents to the ACHA a few months ago remains underway.
No formal executive director since James Wilson
The ACHA has gone without a formal director for a number of years, which has been said to "cripple the organization's ability to make a plan of action."
Former long-timer Cairo mayor and ACHA director Jim Wilson retired in 2014, but blamed many of the problems on the federal budget crises of recent years which bottle-necked federal ACHA funds and overall operating costs.
The federally funded Alexander County Housing Authority would pay the salary of the new executive director. Clarke said the position would start immediately and would report to the board as needed.
Ashmore said on Tuesday he had not been given a formal start date or contract, but planned to begin work "immediately."
"If the Housing and Urban Development office decides to decline funds they would seriously jeopardize the life and safety of the residents of the Alexander County Housing," Clarke said.
Ashmore told reporters Tuesday if HUD denies the authority funds based on his appointment, he would be willing to step down.
"My primary interests remain in the well-being and fair treatment of every tenant of the ACHA," Ashmore said. "I would never do anything to put them at risk. We are here for you. we work for the residents."
HUD representatives would not indicate if they will honor the appointment, or not.
No time-frame has been given.