Election Over, But Change Still On Hold At Chappelle Gardens
Three Chosen Won't Be Seated; Discord Remains
By MARK SPENCER
July 29, 2010
ARTFORD — — Residents agitating for change at Chappelle Gardens had hoped an election July 20 to choose new leaders would be the first step in solving what they say are long-standing problems at the 188-unit affordable housing complex in the North End.
But more than a week after the election, the outcome remains unclear and there is more confusion than certainty about the future of Chappelle Gardens.
When a community organizer at a residents' meeting Wednesday asked if they were comfortable with the election, the 25 people in attendance responded with a resounding "No."
Even with their doubts, it appears insurgent residents have won control of the board of directors, which can have up to 21 members, and will be seated and elect new officers at a meeting tonight. But three of their leaders who were elected last week have been disqualified, according to Mark Quattro, an attorney recently hired by the outgoing board of directors of Chappelle Gardens Inc.
Ludella Williams, the 87-year-old longtime Chappelle president who has been the target of complaints by disgruntled residents, did not seek re-election to the board, although some of her allies have retained their seats.
Chappelle Gardens is currently in default of its 1995 agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and facing a list of demands from the agency. These include better procedures for renting subsidized Section 8 units, allowing more residents to use the Ludella Williams Community Center, opened in 2007 at a cost of $965,000, and a variety of health and safety improvements.
The 1995 agreement also initiated an innovative 15-year plan that gave Chappelle's low- and moderate-income residents the opportunity to buy their apartments. Little progress has been made on the condo conversion plan and it will be up to the new board to determine if it is still possible.
Williams was a champion for Chappelle when the 1995 agreement was being negotiated and has been president for most of the time since then. But some residents have come to resent her grip on power and say she intimidates those who complain, having cars towed from Chappelle parking lots and threatening eviction.
At a meeting of the Chappelle Gardens Resident Action Group Wednesday at the American Legion Hall on Main Street, some residents said Williams was trying to retain control of the board.
"She's still trying to control it," said Judy Moyer, a newly elected member of the board. "We have to do something to stop it."
Quattro dismissed that charge, saying Williams was president for so long only because no one else wanted the volunteer job and she has no intention of trying to influence the new board.
"If that was the case, Ludella Williams would have run," he said.
Quattro said the election was "more than fair" and done in strict accordance with Chappelle's bylaws.
"We are trying to do everything by the book," he said. "We are under a lot of scrutiny."
Although numbers and allegiances are unclear, it appears 11 residents affiliated with the opposition have been elected and five current members have been re-elected to the board, which will have 20 or 21 members.
Residents Jill Tucker and Shawnda Barlow were leaders in a residents' group that advocated for change that has since split into two groups. Both were elected to the new board and both will not be seated, Quattro said.
Tucker is "not in good standing" because of outstanding rent and cannot serve on the board according to the bylaws, Quattro said. Tucker responded that she has kept up with a payment plan she signed and should be seated.
Barlow and another resident, Janet Blackman, have outstanding claims or lawsuits involving Chappelle, creating a potential conflict of interest if they were on the board, Quattro said. Both could be seated in the future if the claims are settled.
Attorney Peter Goselin is working with Hartford Areas Rally Together to help organize residents. He dismissed the conflict of interest concern, saying board members could recuse themselves from discussing or voting on certain issues.
And it was only after the election that the current board "got nervous and decided that maybe they needed to keep people off," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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