SRHA board faced with complaints

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 23, 2002

One month after a receiving a positive evaluation accompanied by a raise, Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority Clarissa E. McAdoo found herself a target of employee complaints and public criticism of her job performance by one commissioner during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Ironically, the SRHA board unanimously took action last night to raise McAdoo’s salary from $79,844 to $83,437 after it failed to vote publicly on the change during last month’s meeting. Legal experts, specializing in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law, said McAdoo’s raise was not legitimate without a public vote.

But as commissioners resolved that blunder, board member Linda Brown introduced findings of her personal investigation into complaints by the housing authority’s maintenance staff. Brown alleged that the workers are overworked, unequipped to perform assigned tasked, threatened by management, and are consequently afraid to bring their concerns to the forefront.

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&uot;Maintenance is tired. They need some help. We need to hire some more help,&uot; Brown told board members. &uot;They are told to do things that are unsafe, impossible, and threatened if they do not do it.&uot;

Brown also hinted that some employees are working as little as two weeks before they are out the door, and spoke of an unnamed staff member who was placed on 90-day probation. &uot;She (McAdoo) ain’t doing what she supposed to do,&uot; stressed Brown. &uot;I feel like she need to be on 90-day probation.&uot;

SRHA Board Chairman Mary V. Richardson told board members that she’s taken a beating since last month’s vote to give McAdoo a 4.5 percent raise, referencing calls from employees and members of the community.

&uot;The talk is that we sit up here and we don’t have hearts and we just put people out,&uot; Richardson stated, touching on recent evictions stemming from fires. &uot;I’m being talked about that I don’t bear down hard enough on Mrs. McAdoo. I am going to do what’s right….I’m getting so I don’t want to come here because of all the bitterness. This is wrong and that is wrong. I’ve been beaten up about the raise and (they say) she don’t treat the employees like she is being treated by the board.&uot;

Focusing their attention back on the core issue, commissioners engaged in heated dialogue about the maintenance complaints for almost an hour as the matter centered in on alleged mistreatment of maintenance staff.

Brown asked that the authority hire more maintenance staff for specialized functions at its five public housing communities, instead of relying on the nine to perform a multitude of tasks that rarely get accomplished.

Brown told the board that she asked the maintenance staff members to voice their criticism during Tuesday’s meeting; however they did not show up. She added that the employees believe they would face repercussions if they went public, but she has asked that they alert her upon receiving any reprimands for speaking with her.

Brown said she canvassed Cypress Manor and Parker-Riddick to get a handle on existing problems in her borough, and hear from the maintenance staff directly. Workers stated, according to Brown, that they could not handle their increasingly enormous workload and that adequate supplies are not available to them to complete jobs.

&uot;They have a very little bit of things they can work with,&uot; said Brown, who encouraged commissioners to take a walk-through of public housing communities in their boroughs. &uot;They don’t have the proper things to work with. It’s very embarrassing.&uot;

McAdoo countered that the agency keeps all supplies on hand that are utilized regularly; however, items that are not as much in demand are ordered based upon need. &uot;We have a fully stocked inventory of supplies,&uot; said McAdoo. &uot;There is nothing that staff needs that they cannot obtain.&uot;

Richardson said she’s spoken extensively with McAdoo about maintenance problems, and is confident that the agency will begin resolving the issues. McAdoo has presented the board with a report that considers the possibility of utilizing outside contractors to fulfill larger job demands, which would free maintenance staff more for the day-to-day functions. But for now, there’s no room in the budget to hire additional staff, she said.

&uot;I would love to be able to hire more staff, but the budget won’t allow it,&uot; said McAdoo.

Brown and Resident-at-large Commissioner Thelma Hinton recommended that the staff be given an avenue to voice concerns anonymously; however, outgoing Commissioner Helivi Holland said a clear message needs to be sent to agency employees:

Holland went on to state that ongoing anonymous complaints do not benefit the employees or the housing authority. Instead, staff must be urged to follow the chain of command through the grievance process.

&uot;We need to make it clear that if any employee feels that they have been wronged,&uot; said Holland, &uot;they need to be very comfortable in filing a grievance, and know that it will be completed with the utmost respect for the employee and their legal rights. But we should not be making arbitrary decisions based on individual complaints.&uot;

Commissioner Carrie Wiggins expressed similar sentiments during the meeting that employees should follow the proper channels to voice their concerns.

&uot;There is another way to do this other than going to one single commissioner and asking her to come to the board,&uot; said Wiggins. &uot;I find it difficult when someone complains, but is afraid to stand up for his or her rights. What are you afraid of if you’re right and if you follow the chain of command?&uot;

SRHA legal counsel Howard Martin concurred with Holland and Wiggins.

&uot;The board cannot decide a case until it gets here,&uot; Martin said. &uot;The way it gets here is through the grievance process.&uot;

McAdoo told commissioners that the concerns voiced Tuesday night regarding employees’ rights &uot;have not been addressed to me or to their supervisors. As for talk of increasing staff, she added, &uot;I am not the determining factor to increase staff, you are.&uot;

While it wasn’t clearly evident how the board would proceed, the majority was seemingly comfortable with McAdoo’s report, in part, suggesting a feasibility study into hiring outside contractors to offset maintenance job functions was the route to take at this juncture.