O'Dekirk plans to expand Joliet Housing Authority board

JOLIET – Mayor Bob O’Dekirk wants to add two members to the Housing Authority of Joliet board of commissioners.

The Joliet City Council is slated Tuesday to vote on the appointments of Robert Hernandez, a former HAJ commissioner, and Maria Cottrell, who had worked at the Housing Authority for 24 years before leaving in 2014.

If approved by the council, the appointments would return the board to seven commissioners.

Former Mayor Tom Giarrante reduced the size of the board from seven to five commissioners in 2013 in a restructuring that occurred after a critical report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD, among other things, suggested a five-member board would be more effective, Giarrante said at the time.

O’Dekirk said he read the letter suggesting the smaller board.

“It was a comment that if you have seven on the board, you may have political appointees who don’t know what they are doing,” O’Dekirk said.

He said Hernandez and Cottrell are “individuals who are familiar with the operations over there. I think they will fit right in.”

Cottrell was human resources coordinator for 12 years at the Housing Authority. Hernandez was a commissioner from 1991 to 1995.

O’Dekirk said when he was a police officer he worked with Hernandez on issues involving public housing.

Hernandez has been an occasional speaker at City Council meetings and had been critical at times of Giarrante. A year ago, he joined the debate over the city's pending takeover of the Evergreen Terrace housing complex, saying Joliet officials had exaggerated the amount of crime there.

O'Dekirk also was critical of his predecessor's handling of Evergreen Terrace, saying the city lacked a detailed plan. O'Dekirk wants to present a detailed plan for the City Council to consider in June.