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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

HRA tenants cry foul over leadership at Cook council meeting

Comments allege executive director is unfit for position

David Colburn
Posted 6/2/21

COOK- Four Cook Housing and Redevelopment Authority tenants appeared at the May 27 Cook City Council meeting to renew longstanding complaints and call for the ouster of Executive Director Reed …

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HRA tenants cry foul over leadership at Cook council meeting

Comments allege executive director is unfit for position

Posted

COOK- Four Cook Housing and Redevelopment Authority tenants appeared at the May 27 Cook City Council meeting to renew longstanding complaints and call for the ouster of Executive Director Reed Erickson.
Jim Obidowski was the primary speaker listed on the meeting agenda, and he wasted no time in asserting a claim that the council and the mayor, and not the CHRA governing board, have both the power and responsibility to relieve Erickson of his duties.
“Who is in charge of the HRA? The city of Cook and the mayor are in charge of Reed Erickson,” Obidowski declared. “That’s what Pete Stauber said. Reed is no good. I’d love to take him to court – sue him and sue the city. He’s nothing but a lying con artist.”
With the Eighth District Congressman’s name being tossed into the fray, the Timberjay contacted Stauber’s office to determine the nature of his communications with CHRA residents. According to a response received Tuesday from Communication Director Kelsey Mix, Stauber’s position on CHRA management responsibilities is at odds with Obidowski’s claim.
“Our office has been contacted by several constituents regarding this issue,” Mix said. “HUD does not manage the day-to-day operations of Cook Housing and Redevelopment Authority (CHRA). The CHRA is represented by a Board of Commissioners which, by Minnesota State Statute, is appointed by the mayor and approved by the governing body of the municipality. This Board is responsible for the hiring, employment, and supervision of the Executive Director of the agency.”
Mix’s statement affirms the response Mayor Harold Johnston gave at the council meeting.
“I’ve been told the authority I have is to appoint somebody to the board. I can’t interfere in day-to-day activities,” Johnston said.
“You’re lying to us, too,” Obidowski retorted.
Obidowski passed out a December 2013 Minnesota Court of Appeals review of a decision made by an unemployment law judge to deny Erickson unemployment benefits after his dismissal from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development for alleged “inappropriate expenditures and requests for reimbursement.”
Erickson’s appeal was originally approved but subsequently denied after DEED retained a law firm to investigate the allegations more thoroughly. The Court of Appeals affirmed that there was “substantial evidence” to support the denial of benefits.
Obidowski characterized the ruling as evidence of “embezzlement several times” and suggested that CHRA financial records should be examined.
Since embezzlement of public funds is a crime in Minnesota, the Timberjay reviewed electronic court records for any charges filed or legal actions taken against Erickson for this incident and found none.
Numerous other comments were made by residents about Erickson’s behavior, including an allegation that the CHRA buildings have been “bugged” so that Erickson can eavesdrop on any conversation in a public area.
“I have a bug finder,” resident Teresa Lindsoe said.
Councilors entertained comments and discussion in excess of 45 minutes, and Johnston noted that it wasn’t the first time this group of residents has complained about Erickson, and said that their assertions run counter to other things he’s heard.
“What bothers me is this is not a universal opinion of Reed,” Johnston said. “I get a different story from some of the other residents that they’re quite satisfied.”
“He’s got his pets,” Obidowski replied.
Declining to take any actions from the meeting exchange, Johnston turned the council’s attention to a vacancy on the CHRA board that must be filled by a resident. The council agreed that they would like to see an election held to nominate a resident for the spot, in accordance with policies laid out by HUD. They agreed to develop a proposal for transparent procedures for nominations and election monitoring to present to the CHRA board and Erickson for review.

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