Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dohoney: CMHA taking appropriate action; Racism, sexism 'difficult to investigate'

Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr says that allegations of racism and sexism within the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) is hard to prove, but that the agency seems to be taking appropriate steps to adjust following the retirement of long-time executive director Donald Troendle in late 2007.

The allegations came from an anonymous group that identified themselves as four black males and six females on the CMHA staff targeting who they called the three "racist/sexist white men" on the agency's board, Don Driehaus, Arnold Barnett and Pete Witte, and interim executive director Richard Rust.

"This communication was submitted to the Mayor and certain members of City Council anonymously, therefore it is very difficult to investigate the specific allegations and determine their legitimacy," Dohoney says in a report to City Council.

Saying that the CMHA board openly despise public housing residents and CMHA staff, the group claims that Rust was appointed as a puppet of the board.

"At the Board meeting on December 18, 2007, the Board accepted the resignation of Mr. Troendle and appointed Mr. Rust Interim Executive Director," Dohoney says. "The minutes reflect that this was done during the business (public) portion of its meeting."

The group alleges that while Rust's appointment was meant to be temporary while CMHA conducted a nationwide search, Rust moved into the office and immediately began filling the staff with friends and family, such as the appointment of his brother-in-law and his "golfing buddy".

Dohoney says that a recruiter was hired on August 19 to begin the search for a new executive director, and that the three qualified individuals mentioned by the group should be encouraged to apply.

"The Board later became aware of other issues confronting the agency that distracted it from undertaking the search according to the tentative timetable outlined in December," he says.

According to Dohoney, Rust's employment agreement is on a month-to-month basis, unlike Troendle's, which was for a fixed period.

"This contract was voted on by the Board at its April meeting in Executive Session, in similar fashion as it had approved previous employment agreements with Mr. Troendle," Dohoney says. "According to Mr. Rust, there is no record of a public vote on an employment contract since Mr. Troendle’s initial appointment in 1994. At the August 19th meeting of the Board, Mr. Rust’s contract was approved during the public portion of the meeting."

Rust's brother-in-law (Mr. Williamson) is a long-time employee of CMHA and was promoted to replace another white male who was transferred to another department, according to Dohoney.

"Mr. Williamson has the education and certifications required for this position," he says. "The appointment was done outside the traditional human resources process of the agency, but is within the discretion of the Executive Director and consistent with the practice established by Mr. Troendle of sometimes appointing exempt supervisory staff without posting the position."

He adds that the appointment was done with the agreement of the director of maintenance, Cecil McNeary, an African American male who was appointed concurrently.

Furthermore, Dohoney says the promotion of Rust's "golfing buddy" was handled by Troendle, not by Rust.

"Here again the personnel action was made outside the normal human resource process of the agency, but is within the discretionary authority of the Executive Director," he says. "In addition, the position was elevated from one that reported to the Director of Maintenance to that of a department director, reporting directly to the Executive Director. This was done to better align skills with the requirements of these two positions."

CMHA has engaged a third party to perform a comprehensive organizational audit and to make recommendations on the agency's structure and resource allocation.

"CMHA appears to be going through a difficult transition over the last several months as a result of changes in leadership and new Board members," Dohoney says. "Such transitions are consistently fraught with insecurity and rumors that adversely impact morale, as well as other perceptions, of staff."

And, although CMHA's recent personnel processes and the perceived lack of transparency have hurt the organization's credibility, Dohoney believes they're on the right track.

"The CMHA Board appears to be taking appropriate and decisive action to bring the agency through this period," he says. "The Board’s intent is to re-establish confidence in the agency’s mission and to ensure its long-term performance as an effective and high performing housing agency."

CMHA operates approximately 5,000 public housing units and administers approximately 11,000 rental vouchers throughout Hamilton County.

Previous reading on BC:
Group: Racism and sexism at CMHA 'beyond belief' (6/5/08)