Housing Commission forced to release information

By Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor

The Boyne City Housing Commission has released salary and severance information, relating to recent personnel changes, under the Freedom of Information Act.

The request was made by the Boyne City Gazette after Boyne City Housing Commission Board President Yvonne Looze refused to release or discuss the severance package offered to the now ex-director of the housing commission Sheila Smith; and the recently approved pay raise for the interim housing director Debra Thompson.

“In addition to all that I already do for the housing commission, I expect that my interim responsibilities are to include: to follow and adhere to personnel policies; to report to the board of the housing commission, at the meetings, the activities and the needs of the Boyne City Housing Commission; to be liaison between the board of commissioners and HUD; financial responsibility for balancing income and expenses of a ‘troubled’ agency’s budget; to confer with the board of the housing commission on all matters which require speaking on behalf of our agency,” Thompson wrote in her request for a pay raise. “For this additional responsibility, I am requesting that my pay be increased by $6.50 per hour.”

She further stated, “At such time as a director is hired and I am relieved of my additional duties, I recognize that I would go back to my normal duties and back to my regular rate of pay.”

That pay increase was approved by the housing commission board during their August meeting.  The proposed, and ultimately rescinded, severance package which had been offered to Smith was also released under the FOIA request.

According to the documents obtained from the housing commission, the offer of a severance package was contingent upon Smith voluntarily resigning her position.  If Smith would have resigned she would have received 30 days of wages totaling $4,616; medical insurance for 60 days; a letter of recommendation from the housing commission board; and 90 hours of accrued vacation time.  The reason for Smith’s dismissal has been called “personnel issues” by Looze.

When asked on Friday Sept. 2, who directed Looze to demand Smith’s resignation on the afternoon of Friday Aug. 5, she said she did not understand the question.  “The director requested time to consult with an attorney, which was encouraged,” Looze said.  “The director did not appear for the scheduled 8 a.m. (Aug. 8) meeting nor did she attend the special meeting.”  She then referred to the special meeting of the Boyne City Housing Commission Board, wherein Smith was fired, as the time when the issue was “presented to the board.”

According to Smith, she was given no notice that her services were no longer needed until Aug. 5, when Looze and an unnamed attorney entered her office demanding that she sign a resignation form on the spot.  According to the minutes of the Aug. 8, special meeting, Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said many considerations went into the “serious decision” to fire Smith.

During a Friday Sept. 2, interview, Smith said she believes she was fired after she revealed she was suffering from clinical depression.  “I only told them because I needed to tell them and hoped they would understand,” she said.  “They took what I told them and I was terminated.”  Looze was queried via e-mail, at her request, for a comment on Smith’s claims of being fired due to a medical condition.  “I have no comment regarding personnel issues,” Looze stated.

According to Smith, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal body which oversees claims of workplace discrimination, has agreed to take her case.

A call placed to the EEOC was not returned by press time.

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