Trip Tomlinson, the husband of Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, has stepped down from his position as a commissioner on the Housing Authority of Columbus board.
Tomlinson, an attorney, served eight years on the board, most recently as vice chairman. On Monday, he submitted a resignation letter to the Clerk of Council at Columbus Consolidated Government. He is being replaced by Ken Henson, also a local attorney, the mayor said.
Trip Tomlinson said Wednesday he resigned because he believed his presence on the board had become a distraction to the agency’s mission to provide quality housing for the community and revitalize blighted neighborhoods.
“While I loved serving on the board, the mission is more important than my participation,” he said.
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Tomlinson’s resignation comes in the wake of a bitter dispute between the mayor and some black community leaders who opposed the housing authority’s proposal to build 100 apartments around the historic Liberty Theatre. The project was part of the agency’s plans to demolish the old Booker T. Washington Housing apartment complex and replace it with commercial development and mixed-income housing at the current location and around the theater.
Mayor Tomlinson and City Manager Isaiah Hugley fought vigorously for the project, but the housing authority backed out of the plans April 12 in response to the strong opposition.Some opponents have attributed the mayor’s strong support to her husband’s position on the board.
Housing Authority commissioners are appointed by the mayor. Trip Tomlinson was first appointed by Mayor Bob Poydasheff to complete Cathy Williams’ unexpired term in 2005, according to housing authority officials. He was reappointed to a full term by Mayor Jim Wetherington and a second full term after his wife’s election. But Teresa Tomlinson recused herself and the appointment was made by Mayor Pro Tem Evelyn Turner Pugh.
Mayor Tomlinson said her husband’s role on the board was a non-issue, but some people became confused because of what was being reported in the community. She said he served in the volunteer position with great passion and would probably have an opportunity to serve on other boards. She said Henson was appointed to replace Tomlinson because “he has a great deal of experience in housing issues.”
“Now, we can move on and take non-substantive distractions off the table,” she said, “and have faith that the mayor’s concerns and passions are based on the merit of the issues and nothing else.”
Len Williams, the housing authority’s chief executive officer, said Tomlinson’s eight years on the board are not unusual. He said some mayors have set term limits for housing authority commissioners in the past based on city ordinance. But the agency asked Mayor Tomlinson to follow state law, which has no term limits, to reappoint current chairman Larry Cardin. He said the city later changed the city ordinance to be in accordance with the state law so housing authority commissioners could serve more than two terms.
Williams said Trip Tomlinson hadn’t completed his second full term so term limits wouldn’t have been an issue. He said Tomlinson’s resignation is a great loss to the housing authority. “He has been a terrific member and I hate to see him leave,” he said.
Henson, who in the mid-1980s helped found the Columbus chapter of Habitat for Humanity, said he looks forward to bringing his expertise to the board. He said the mayor offered him the position, and he was happy to help because “she’s the hardest working mayor in my lifetime.”
He said he understands why Trip Tomlinson resigned. “Legally and financially there was no conflict,” he said. “But I think he did the right thing because it had become a distraction.”
Henson said the housing authority, under Williams’ leadership, has been a real blessing to the community. He hopes everyone will come together and focus on the common goal, which is quality housing.
“Everybody wants the same thing, but how do we get there?” he said. “ The (challenge) is to get everybody to agree.”
In the letter to the clerk, Trip Tomlinson recounted the housing authority’s recent achievements and looked to the future.
“During my tenure, the Authority has transformed the Peabody property into Ashley Station and Baker Village into Arbor Pointe, providing our residents with some of the finest public housing anywhere,” the letter said. “Necessary and critical renovations and improvements also have occurred at many of the Authority’s other properties. These changes not only create quality housing but also set the stage for growth and revitalization in the surrounding areas. I look forward to the Authority’s ‘next great thing.’”