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South Bend Housing Authority director is pushed out

South Bend Housing Authority director is pushed out

Postby Happy Mom » Tue Sep 24, 2019 8:35 pm

South Bend Housing Authority director is pushed out

By Caleb Bauer South Bend Tribune 6 hrs ago


SOUTH BEND — The executive director of the South Bend Housing Authority is being let go, two months after the FBI raided the offices of the federally funded agency.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday morning not to renew Tonya Robinson's contract, which expires Friday.

Two members reached by The Tribune, Sam Centellas and former Superior Court Judge Roland Chamblee Jr., deferred comment to the board president, Virginia Calvin.

"Previously, on Sept. 17, the board suspended Ms. Robinson with pay while the board reviewed her performance and conduct as executive director," a news release from Calvin said. "Housing Authority operations will continue uninterrupted as the board begins its search for a new executive director."

Calvin also said in the statement that the board's decision "is intended to ensure that the Housing Authority is fulfilling its mission and living up to the high standards we have set for it."

In an interview, Calvin would not specify why Robinson was let go.

Asked why Robinson was suspended, Calvin said it was "because we needed to do some more investigation based on the possibility of improper behavior."

But when a reporter followed up by asking if Robinson's termination amounted to a conclusion of improper behavior, Calvin declined to answer.

The factual basis for disciplinary action against an employee of a public agency is public record, according to state law. Last year, Transpo board members tried to conceal the reason they fired the agency's executive director. Ultimately, the Transpo board agreed to release the records after the Indiana Public Access Counselor said their refusal was a violation of state law.

Calvin also said she "can't respond" to a question of if the firing was related to FBI searches there but also said the FBI has not communicated with the board.

In late July, the main offices of the housing authority, on Alonzo Watson Drive, were closed abruptly as FBI agents searched inside. Agents also searched a housing authority-owned home on the city's south side.

The public agency has faced scrutiny in recent years over financial mismanagement, poor conditions in public housing facilities and low ratings from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the past, the board of commissioners had been publicly supportive of Robinson, reacting angrily to criticism leveled against the authority last year by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg rebuked the board of commissioners and staff of the housing authority late last year for poor conditions and wasteful spending, including consistent late fees on water bills for the authority. In December 2018, Buttigieg said the authority was moving in the right direction and cooperation between the city and agency was "light years" ahead of where it had been.

In early 2015, Buttigieg replaced the entire board of commissioners, which oversee the housing authority. Buttigieg's office appoints the board members, but day-to-day operations are handled by the agency's executive director. At that time, Robinson kept her position as executive director despite the entire board being replaced.

According to Buttigieg's spokesman Mark Bode, the FBI "has not reached out to the city administration with information" and the mayor's office did not give direction to board members on the decision and has no control over personnel decisions at the Housing Authority.

"The city's primary concern is that Housing Authority residents do not experience an interruption in services, and we will support the board in making sure that is the case," Bode said.

The housing authority's board of commissioners will meet next week to decide on appointing an acting director and beginning a search for a new executive director. Calvin said the date and time of that meeting has not been set.

The HUD Inspector General's office would neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.


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