Terminated: Orange Housing Authority fires top employee
Board commissioners of the Orange Housing Authority (OHA) have terminated whistleblower and Executive Director Tanya Wilson a little more than a year into her appointment, effective Friday, March 8. This makes the second executive director the OHA board has let go in little more than a year. The previous executive director, Frank Anderson, was removed from his post at the end of 2011 amid allegations of gross negligence, mismanaging government funds and conducting shady business practices on the public’s dime. The OHA board tasked with overseeing Anderson was left intact.
Wilson’s termination comes just days after she reported alleged OHA board violations to HUD officials, the federal agency overseeing the quasi-governmental unit. The OHA board was scheduled to review and possibly enter into an employment contract with Wilson at its March 8 public meeting although she had been acting in the executive director capacity for roughly 15 months already. They instead chose to terminate the executive director following a three-hour closed-door executive session.
OHA board commissioner Joe Robinson voted against the firing, but was outvoted by board president Mary McKenna, commissioner Michael Combs, and commissioner Patricia Coppage. Combs made the motion to terminate Wilson’s employment with the agency and give the ousted executive director six months severance pay. Combs stated that Wilson would be given the chance to resign rather than be fired, but Wilson declined the offer.
“I haven’t done anything to need to resign,” Wilson told The Examiner after the board’s March 8 meeting. “I’ve never been fired from a job before, and I’ve never even had a negative evaluation. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, but that doesn’t make it right.”
Wilson said she will now institute the OHA grievance process to appeal the board’s decision. OHA board president McKenna said she had no comment on the board’s actions or Wilson’s termination.
Prior to her termination, Wilson penned a letter to OHA commissioners and board president McKenna, Orange City Manager Shawn Oubre, the Orange City Council, HUD Regional Director Dan Rodriguez, Public Housing Revitalization Specialist Kelvin Williams, and HUD Office of the Inspector General Special Agent Rafael Galindo. In the correspondence, the executive director outlines what she has done to improve the OHA’s “troubled” status from the wreckage of Anderson’s time in charge of the housing authority. Still, she insists, the cause of the housing authority’s problems may not have only stemmed from one bad egg.
“The situation with the Board has become untenable,” the executive director stated in the letter. “I have been wrongfully prevented from attending closed executive sessions. In addition, I have repeatedly been asked to sign documents that I believe violates HUD rules and regulations.
“I am deeply concerned with the direction the Orange City Housing Authority is currently heading. I believe the board should immediately employ a specialized audit firm to conduct a forensic audit and retain independent outside attorneys to advise the Agency on HUD policies and procedures. I believe there may have been improper spending on behalf of the Authority. I have voiced these concerns and reported them to HUD and OIG.
“These have been difficult times for the Authority. I am hopeful that by taking a proactive stance concerning these troubled issues, we can turn this Agency around and bring it into compliance with Federal and State regulations.”
Wilson also alleged that OHA commissioners were skirting procurement procedure laws. Questions as to the validity of those procurement procedures prompted a letter from HUD Regional Director Rodriguez ordering a halt to OHA projects across the board. OHA attorney Guy Goodson said he expects Rodriguez’s cease-work order to be lifted soon, adding that the procurement process utilized by OHA was within the law.
Additionally, any resident wanting to address the board about the projects proposed by OHA, or the projects’ indefinite halt, was prevented from addressing the commissioners during the March 8 meeting to air out their concerns. OHA commissioners did allow a man they called the “Resident Council President” to have control of the floor for approximately 30 minutes to rebuff a petition signed by a couple hundred residents stating that OHA’s procurement procedures were not in the best interest of the residents of OHA.
“I’m here to clear up a lie that was told in my face,” Resident Council President Anthony Vigas told the board. Vigas’ time at the microphone was mostly used to facilitate a verbal altercation with OHA Quality Control Coordinator Raymond Young, the person responsible for forwarding the residents’ petition to the Secretary of State and HUD officials.
“You will discover that the (MOU that spurred development’s demise due to improper procurement) does not serve in the best interest of our agency, and more importantly, our residents,” Young wrote to HUD and state officials. “Our residents are very concerned about this matter. Their voices need to be heard.”
Vigas said the residents are acting out of fear spawned from misinformation. Residents who bypassed OHA board policy and shouted out their concerns during the board’s meeting concluded that racism was motivating the board to quell public input. Board president McKenna and commissioners discussed taking steps to allow public comments in the future.