Jax Housing Authority CEO says he will remain at helm amid probe

Published on December 11, 2023 at 9:14 pm

Jacksonville Housing Authority CEO Dwayne Alexander, whose local low-income housing agency is under “investigation” by the city’s Office of the Inspector General, said Monday he has no plans to step down anytime soon.

“We have been exceptionally good when it comes to running this agency,” said Alexander after an emergency meeting of the JHA Board that was called to address an inspector general report on JHA “personnel issues.” The report, which has been circulating among management for several days, has yet to be released to the public.

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People spilled out into the hallway Monday at the Jacksonville Housing Authority administration building, bending their ears to listen to the board discuss at least two probes into JHA issues. One was an inquiry that’s been resolved, regarding felons in a housing program. The other concerned the “personnel issues” that JHA Board Chairman Christopher Walker said the board was restricted from discussing until the OIG issues its final report.

The meeting followed a request by the mayor’s office to put a planned raise for Alexander on hold while the city works to address how the housing agency is working. 

Alexander, through his attorney, issued a letter to the city’s legal office claiming “whistleblower” status and “unlawful retaliation.” 

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“We believe that the unnamed sources providing information to local media may be promulgating innuendo against Mr. Alexander, ie: pretext to remove Mr. Alexander from his position,” Alexander’s letter to the Office of General Counsel states. “This appears to be unlawful retaliation. And Mr. Alexander will not hesitate to protect his rights under law. I have been directed by my client to attempt a resolution of this matter prior to instituting litigation.”

The letter from attorney Neil Henrichsen dated Dec. 8 and copied to the inspector general was addressed to the board’s attorney, Lawsikia Hodges with the city’s Office of the General Counsel.

The letter states that JHA board leadership had asked Alexander to resign. At the meeting Monday, no such request was spoken by any board member.

Mayor Donna Deegan, during a press conference Monday, said her office is waiting to hear from the board. 

“(The Inspector General report is) not even public yet,” Deegan said. “So I’m going to await their judgment. I want to remind you that the mayor’s office only became involved in this issue because we heard from board members who were concerned about a request for a very large pay raise after a recent one that had just happened. And they were concerned that there were issues that needed to be looked at.”

Alexander’s office has 10 days from last Thursday to issue a response to the OIG draft report. Walker says as soon as Alexander has completed that response, another emergency board meeting will be scheduled. No date had been set as of Monday evening.

A hefty part of board discussion Monday revolved around terminology – whether to call the inspector general’s involvement an “investigation” or an “inquiry.”

Hodges, who represents the JHA board, said the “investigation” terminology came directly from the Office of the Inspector General. 

Alexander did not agree, calling it an “inquiry” and insisting the authority gets inquiries from the office often.

There was also no small amount of frustration by board members because they learned about the issues through local media rather than from JHA management. And several members wanted to address JHA policy on transparency with the board when it comes to external probes of JHA.

“I think it’s important to note that the CEO of this organization works for this board, and we all work together to, you know, we’re trying to do great things for housing,” said Commissioner Heather Horovitz. “I just think that the lack of transparency just feels like a lack of trust that we’re a team here trying to move his agency forward. And so I think it would have been incredibly important for it to be communicated to — at least the chair — that we were in an investigation.” 

Walker called the issues a “distraction” putting the board in a limbo and tearing it away from more pressing matters.

“As I sit here today, it is clear that — whatever each of our individual opinions are on this matter — it is disappointing to me that it took something like this to gather this much interest in the Housing Authority and the work that we’re doing,” Walker said. “It is a distraction. It is something that needs to be resolved. And it’s something that this board needs to make decisions around so we can get back to the normal order of business.”

Lead image: Lawsikia Hodges, attorney with the Office of General Counsel, speaks about a probe into the Jacksonville Housing Authority at the JHA Board meeting Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, as JHA CEO Dwayne Alexander, foreground, listens. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville Today

Editor’s note: Lawsikia Hodges is a member of the board of trustees of Jacksonville Today parent organization, WJCT Public Media.

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Casmira Harrison is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on local government in Duval County.

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