Letter: ‘It’s my way or the highway’ for city leaders

Published 9:06 pm Monday, April 15, 2019

My name is Gloria Olson, lifelong resident of Albert Lea. I have been employed as a counselor for the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) for 20 years. My passion for serving my community began with advocating for people living in poverty.

Three years ago, I became more invested in my community as a community leader. I was appointed by the mayor to serve on the Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board, assisted in creating an adult mental health support group, chaired committees and became president of a service club. I attended Homeless Day on the Hill at our Capitol, speaking with our state representatives.

The HRA is a separate governing authority consisting of private board members who are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council. The HRA Board of Commissioners’ roles are multi-faceted. The commissioners hire and supervise the executive director to manage the daily operations of the agency. The ED role is critical for the advancement of affordable housing and development by establishing policies that ensure HRA’s program integrity. The mission of the HRA is to “provide safe, decent and affordable housing so that families and residents can live, grow and work in their community.”

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The former HRA executive director resigned in June 2018. The city manager offered assistance to the HRA commissioners to assist with financial and human resource services. For three months, he also placed the assistant city manager as an acting director at HRA, juggling both roles. First, we were grateful for the city’s assistance of services. As time passed, it became apparent that our city leaders had their own agenda. The HRA board inquired to the city manager if the city of Albert Lea’s plan was to take control of the HRA and dissolve the board. That question has yet to be answered.

The board endured pushback and resistance from the city when wanting to move forward in hiring a full-time ED. On Oct. 30, 2018, during a public board meeting, the city manager verbally reprimanded the board, as we disagreed with his decision to delay in hiring an ED.

The mayor then requested three board members submit a voluntary resignation to him, or he would begin the suspension process for removal. At a December City Council meeting, when asked, the mayor stated the three HRA board members voluntarily resigned. I didn’t willingly resign. I was forced and pressured from the city manager via voicemail and email communications. The mayor then appointed three City Council members to replace us — totaling four council members on the current HRA board, enough to always sway a vote.

After my experience with the two city leaders, I received their clear message: Your input has no value unless it aligns with the agenda of the city, creating the persona, “It’s my way or the highway.” I found the actions of our city leaders to be unprofessional, offensive and disrepectful to the HRA board volunteers.

I hope the integrity of the HRA remains intact.

Gloria Olson

Albert Lea