UPDATE: Mayor Prince says she will make no immediate changes on the board.
After a damning federal audit from HUD and with a court battle looming over the termination of former employee Joe Guillory, the Port Arthur Housing Authority (PAHA) moved to executive session away from reporters and out of the public eye Monday, Oct. 22.
When they returned 15 minutes later, the board approved a resolution to not reinstate Guillory, now six months after he cooperated with a scathing federal audit conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that showed PAHA lost or misused at least $5.9 million over the course of one year.
“This is taxpayer money that’s been set aside to help the most vulnerable of society have housing,” said Guillory’s attorney, Cade Bernsen. “He (Guillory) aided the government in their investigation, cooperated with them and he was fired — we’re alleging — as a result of it.”
Bernsen said he will file suit against PAHA as early as next week, taking the authority to court under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Bernsen had hoped to settle the dispute out of court by working closely with board member Farhana Swati, a new face to the PAHA board who had already demonstrated her willingness to question current board members in previous meetings. Guillory and Bernsen met with Swati on Monday before the official meeting of the housing authority was to take place. Bernsen said the meeting went well, as his client laid out his entire story for Swati who, Bernsen said, listened intently.
Bernsen conceded he hoped Swati would try to keep the board from moving into executive session at Monday’s meeting, but Swati — who said she had a “family emergency” — never showed.
“I’m shocked,” Bernsen said moments after the board’s decision. “I really thought we were gonna at least have a report of some kind.”
At a June meeting, the board appointed commissioners Clonie Ambrose and Bart Bragg to form a “fact finding” committee tasked with reviewing Guillory’s file and, if need be, talking with the ex-employee.
“Never was there a report. All they said was no action needed to be taken,” Swati told The Examiner in late September. “They said they never gave a written report. … There’s no point of reviewing someone’s file and never reporting your findings.”
Swati downplayed her absence at the Oct. 22 meeting, saying the board had already decided to not reinstate Guillory, adding she will express her discontent to city officials in Port Arthur in her own way.
“I’m going to make my point clear to the board, the executive director and the mayor, but the board had already decided what they wanted to do, so it wasn’t like anything I had to say would’ve made a difference,” Swati said.
The board’s unanimous vote against Guillory’s reinstatement suggests that might be true.
A calm and seemingly unaffected Guillory said he wasn’t at all surprised by the board’s decision.
“I came here expecting this,” Guillory said. “I know the type of people I’m dealing with.”
Multiple calls for comment to Executive Director Seledonio “Cele” Quesada were not returned as of Wednesday, Oct. 24, but Mayor “Bobbie” Prince, who appoints the five-member housing authority board, said replacing one or all of the board members now would negatively affect a second HUD audit currently being conducted.
“These are good people who are on that board,” she said. “I would never try to damage their reputation by taking them off the board until all this stuff is cleared.”
Prince said she had no knowledge of the reason behind Joe Guillory’s termination, adding she will accept any board member’s resignation, if they so choose. She admitted having the ultimate authority to replace PAHA board members but said she won’t anytime soon.
“We’re gonna wait until this audit is over with,” Prince said.
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