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Article updated: 7/30/2013 9:13 AM

Former Lake County Housing Authority boss gets $122,000 to leave agency

By Bob Susnjara

Lake County Housing Authority's former executive director/chief executive officer will receive a six-figure payment for leaving the agency, settlement documents show.

Jeneen Smith-Underwood spent just four months in the top post after taking over for David Northern, who left in March to take a job with the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Northern was rehired to lead the Lake County agency July 10, the same day board commissioners voted 7-0 in favor of Smith-Underwood's voluntary separation agreement.

Documents obtained through a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request show Smith-Underwood will be paid $122,000 through her acceptance of the offer and resignation. Smith-Underwood had been the housing authority's deputy director for about five years when she was elevated to the top spot.

"Smith-Underwood agrees that she shall not make any statement (oral or in writing) that disparages (the agency) or any of its current or former commissioners, officers, attorneys, accountants, agents, employees, representatives and assigns," the deal states.

Housing authority officials haven't publicly commented on Smith-Underwood's departure. Smith-Underwood and Housing authority board Chairman R. Delacy Peters could not be reached for comment Monday.

Launched in 1946, the authority supports housing for more than 11,000 Lake County residents and mostly receives its public funding from the federal government. It is the fourth-largest housing authority in Illinois, with seven commissioners appointed by the Lake County Board chairman.

Peters praised Smith-Underwood's housing authority work in a reference letter that was part of the separation agreement.

"Jeneen Smith-Underwood has served the Lake County Housing Authority and the residents of Lake County with the utmost integrity and professionalism. She has consistently provided workable and timely solutions to the challenges facing the affordable housing industry today. Ms. Smith-Underwood would be an asset to any organization," Peters' letter says.

Smith-Underwood's agreement shouldn't be construed as an admission of any acts of wrongdoing by her or others, documents state.

In 2005, Smith-Underwood was among 10 recipients of the YWCA of Lake County's Women of Achievement Awards. Smith-Underwood was praised for her affordable housing work as neighborhood services coordinator in the village of Round Lake Beach.

Northern, who will receive a $146,466 base salary to head the Lake County Housing Authority, declined to discuss Smith-Underwood in an interview last week. Earlier this year, Northern complimented her in the agency's annual report before he quit to become a high-ranking executive at the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

Northern said he had the "utmost confidence in the continued direction of the Lake County Housing Authority under the guidance, vision and leadership" of Smith-Underwood.

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