St. James housing director fired

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / October 28, 2000

LUTCHER – The St. James Housing Authority Board fired Executive DirectorR.M. Jackson Thursday, saying only her contract allowed the board to fireher without cause.

The unanimous vote for dismissal came directly after the independent consulting company, The NelRod Co., presented its report on the conditionof the St. James Housing Authority and its unexpected removal from theparish on Aug. 18.The report was received by the Troubled Agency Recovery Center in Memphis, Tenn., on Sept. 27. TARC had hired NelRod to help the St. JamesHousing Authority improve its ratings and remove it from troubled status.

Nelson Rodriguez, president or NelRod, told the board the housing authority was burdened by gross mismanagement.

Jackson’s attorney, Robert Barnett of New Orleans, interrupted saying that in order to accuse anyone’s performance it would have to be held in executive session. Bruce Mohon, attorney for the board, allowed Rodriguezto continue since legally the agency was presenting the report to the board and citing mismanagement and not particular individuals.

Rodriguez explained that his company had been in business for 15 years and worked with 810 different housing authorities across the country.

Never had the company come across a worst agency, said Rodriguez. Hesaid customer dissatisfaction was the highest he had ever seen and the management’s strategies were in poor judgment and against the department of Housing and Urban Development’s regulations. Thegovernment could disallow the entire amount of money the St. JamesParish Housing Authority received because of how mismanaged the agency was, said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez gave instances of deplorable conditions in the residences, vacancies and turn around times for vacant to rented apartments at 500 to more than 900 days.

“There is evidence after evidence after evidence, over and over,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez claimed the utilities deposits made by the residents were being held by the housing authority management. He warned the board it was”not dealing with local issues. This is dealing with federal money, andnow we’re talking felonies,” said Rodriguez.

It was due to a constant hostility the NelRod members felt and an eventual death threat to a member that led them to leave, Rodriguez said.

The death threat was the icing on the cake, and everything else had just culminated to that point, said Rodriguez in closing.

The NelRod team finished presenting the report and stated it would stand by it, and at that time members left the premises without further discussion before the board.

Jackson was given a chance to rebut against the statements in the report, but under the advisement of her lawyer she “let the report speak for itself,” said Barnett.

The next action taken was the motion to dismiss Jackson, made by Chairman Grayling Brown and seconded by Janet Johnson. It was voted byrole call, with Brown, Johnson, Ethel White, Loraine Webster and Arbor Jane Smith all voting for the dismissal.

Barnett asked the board if it was dismissing her because of anything in the NelRod report or the presentation that evening. The board and Mohonexplained only that it was decided to dismiss her without cause.

Mohon further explained that on Oct. 24 he had contacted Jackson andexplained her right to have any discussion of her dismissal done in executive session. He stated before the board that she had refused andwanted it to take place in the public hearing.

“We’re going to be seeing some gray areas at first, but we will be going in a positive direction here,” said St. James Parish Council Chairman EltonAubert. The parish human resources department will go into the housingauthority to help stabilize things until everything is back to normal, added Aubert.

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