COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Columbia Housing Authority is facing $11,000 in fines after pleading guilty to 24 code related citations in city court on Wednesday.
The housing authority faced 26 citations, encompassing more than 800 individual violations discovered during an inspection of its Allen Benedict Court property in 2019. The violations were consolidated into several categories, resulting in the 26 written citations.
Some of the citations described instances of exposed wiring, expired fire extinguishers, broken smoke detectors, and missing carbon monoxide detectors.
Executive Director Ivory Mathews, who took over the Columbia Housing Authority in May of 2019, pleaded guilty on behalf of the authority in the city’s Quality of Life court. She and many other board commissioners were not working at the authority when two men were found dead inside their apartments in January of 2019.
One citation was dismissed after being deemed a duplicative. Another citation, describing the lack of carbon monoxide detectors in all units, is headed for a jury trial.
Housing Authority attorney Bob Coble said the decision to request a jury trial is the result of pending civil litigation related to carbon monoxide detectors. If the litigation can be resolved, he indicated the authority may be able to resolve the citation without a jury trial.
“The tragedy in 2019, the loss of life, the disruption and movement of families, we are so very sorry and regret as we’ve said many times,” Coble said. “Ms. Mathews came after that and has instituted many changes including currently any housing unit with a gas appliance has a carbon monoxide detector.”
Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said he is pleased with the conviction and believes it sets a precedent for other property and business owners.
“This should not only send a message to the housing authority, but this should send a message to apartment owners. You got people living in apartments. You still have to follow the rules,” Jenkins said.
Moving forward, Jenkins said his department is going to work closely with housing authority inspectors, as it still self-inspects its properties.
“We’re going to continue to monitor, as for records, inspection records, my fire marshal is going to be in there with them doing inspections,” he said.
Since the change in leadership, Jenkins said transparency has improved at the housing authority and communication between it and the fire department continues to grow.
While pleased with the guilty pleas, Jenkins said he has “mixed emotions” about the prospect of a jury trial for one of the citations.
“I want to get this over and done with. I’m ready for this to be over and I think the public is ready for this to be over,” he said. “To me, to continue to drag it out so to speak, it means I have to be back in court again.”
Several civil lawsuits, including a wrongful death suit filed by the estate of Derick Roper, are pending.