Jane Cahill-Wolfgram’s appointment to the Village of DeForest’s Housing Authority Board was approved Tuesday night, but not without controversy.
In a 4-2 vote, the DeForest Village Board approved Village President Judd Blau’s decision to move Cahill-Wolfgram into the role that’s been occupied by fellow Trustee Abigail Lowery.
Lowery was caught off guard by the move. She said she wasn’t informed of the change until seeing the village board’s agenda.
“I would have liked notification ahead of time,” said Lowery. “It was a pretty big shock to me.”
Lowery and Trustee Jeff Miller voted against Blau’s appointment of Cahill-Wolfgram. Three citizens spoke out in support of Lowery. Blau also read two letters calling for Lowery to remain with the Housing Authority.
In defending the change, Blau detailed Cahill-Wolfgram’s extensive background in housing and community development. With the body potentially switching over to a Community Development Authority, Blau felt Cahill-Wolfgram could handle the rigors of the position.
Blau noted that emails he’s received questioned whether politics played a role in his decision. He said that was not the case.
Lowery has chaired the Housing Authority for the past three years. In a related move Tuesday, she was appointed to the Public Services Committee by a vote of 6-0. Lowery doesn’t feel the two positions are equal. She sees the change as a demotion.
“I believe it has relegated me to a junior member of the village board,” said Lowery, who thought she would have a five-year tenure with the Housing Authority.
Blau stated, “It’s nothing against Abby. She’s still a member of the village board.”
Blau also said that while the Public Service Committee hadn’t met in some time, he believes it can be put into place. He also explained that he likes to mix it up for village board members to give them a variety of committees to serve.
Miller asked Lowery about her qualifications with regard to the Housing Authority and the possible change to a Community Development Authority, which would also involve economic development work.
Lowery cited her knowledge of housing issues, her experience with the Housing Authority and the research she’s done as Housing Authority chair, along with the interviews, background checks and other work she did in the hiring of Ed Wall as executive director of the Housing Authority.
Resident John Scepanski addressed the village board to try to convince them to keep Lowery in her role as Housing Authority chair.
“With all due respect to Trustee Cahill-Wolfgram, and I mean that in all sincerity, Trustee Cahill-Wolfgram, we residents of Jefferson Square would prefer to see Ms. Lowery remain as chair of the DeForest Housing Authority Board,” said Scepanski.
Scepanski said Lowery has demonstrated over and over again how much she cares about the residents of Jefferson Square, that she is sensitive to the needs of its older, retired residents. Scepanski also said Lowery studied hard to learn the intricacies of housing authorities and has shown independence and personal initiative on behalf of residents.
“Again, to be clear, we are not opposed to Trustee Cahill-Wolfgram’s membership on the DHA Board,” said Scepanski. “We just do not want to lose Trustee Lowery.”
Blau said every decision he makes is for the betterment of the village. He also said that such appointments are usually staggered by statute, but that “somehow this one got unstaggered.”
Blau was surprised at the attention the appointment brought.
“This is the one and only time any attention has been given to any of my appointments or committee assignments,” said Blau. “It usually goes without fanfare.”