Second suit for the housing commission

Published 9:22 am Friday, August 21, 2009

Niles Daily Star

In echoes of summers past, news circled Thursday that the Niles Housing Commission would once again be defending itself in the matter of a lawsuit.

This time the plaintiff is former maintenance supervisor Michael Smith, who was terminated in July.

Smith’s claim is that he was fired after approaching officials with the commission about the wrongdoing of a subordinate, claiming that the custodian was “sexually involved with, and or harassing various tenants.”

Smith also alleges that when he took the information of the situation, which dates back to when previous executive director David Martin was still employed by the housing commission, to new executive director Mary Ann Bush and (former interim executive director) Bryant Bacon in June of 2009 he was told not to discuss the situation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Because of his attempt to bring the matter to the attention of officials and HUD and his subsequent firing, Smith’s claim against the Niles Housing Commission has been filed as a “Whistleblower Complaint.”

As news crews were on hand to discuss the matter with Smith and his lawyer, Eugenie B. Eardley of the Eardley Law Offices in Cannonsburg, Mich., one particular party unaware of the complaint at the time was the housing commission itself.

The NHC’s legal representation, attorney Michael Bell of the law firm Kotz Sangster Wysocki & Berg said he found out about the complaint via the news – and by early afternoon Thursday, the commission had yet to be officially served with the complaint.
The 37 page document also drudges up issues stemming from when David Martin was terminated last year during a particularly tumultuous time for the commission and claims that Smith’s subordinate has a criminal history which should have made him ineligible for employment as per HUD regulations.

“I want them (NHC) to comply with the law,” said Eardley.

The typical outcome for such a complaint involves either reinstatement or monetary compensation.  Eardley said she didn’t think reinstatement, “would be the best thing,” for her client.

The injustice, according to Eardley is that Smith was allegedly punished for reporting wrongdoing, something that “people should do.”

“I think it’s a very strong claim,” Eardley said.

The plaintiff’s attorney said she was planning on contacting Bell later that afternoon.
In the claim, it is also evident that Smith was keeping regular contact with two representatives from HUD, which had previously made a visit to Niles as the commission was receiving heavy criticism for the situation involving Martin.

The allegations against Bush in particular raise speculation, as the new executive director has previous experience working with HUD through section eight housing.

Smith’s official complaint is like replay of the housing commission’s former haunts. The organization has tried to pull itself out of the spotlight following Martin’s firing and following suit and continued criticism by HUD officials. It looked like they had done just that when a Bush was instituted as executive director.  But recently, the commission was again the focus of attention when a tenant was told he would face eviction for growing marijuana plants on HUD property.

Whether or not Smith’s complaint will derail further progress remains to be seen.