Hickory City Council voted Wednesday to take no immediate action on allegations that employees at the city’s housing authority sexually harassed tenants and misused taxpayer money for gifts and trips to conferences.
Council voted 6-1 against a proposal to designate a member to monitor meetings of the Hickory Housing Authority to keep city officials better informed.
The vote came after the Observer reported that three former Housing Authority administrators have filed complaints charging that a manager offered to pay tenants’ rent in exchange for sexual favors.
Housing Authority Executive Director Alanda Richardson and other agency officials attended the meeting, but council voted without asking them any questions. About 30 people attended the special meeting, but they were not allowed to address the council.
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City leaders acknowledged that some of the accusations described in a complaint by former employees could be possible crimes, but said they would not contact police. Mayor Rudy Wright said the victims were responsible for filing police reports.
A complaint letter sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in June alleged that Richardson was told about the sexual harassment but did not move to stop it.
Craig Hensel, a Greensboro attorney who plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the alleged victims, said at least six women have come forward and accused Housing Authority employees of sexual harassment, including the manager and staffers.
Hickory officials have said the manager no longer works for the Housing Authority. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Richardson would not answer questions about the accusations.
The former employees also raised questions about management at the authority.
In September 2014, the former employees said, Richardson ordered female staffers to attend a two-hour facial and makeup session with a friend, who was a Mary Kay cosmetics consultant. After the presentation, Richardson announced the employees could spend $150 each on makeup and the agency would pay the costs.
Richardson denied accusations that the money was misspent. In the past, she said, she’s bought employees pocketbooks, baskets and other gift to show appreciation for their work.
“It is a way for us to say ‘Thank you,’ ” Richardson said. “I am sorry some people were offended.”
Since 2013, the housing authority has paid to send administrators and others on training trips, including to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; Hilton Head Island, S.C.; and Las Vegas.
Documents show the agency spent about $8,000 to send the agency’s board of commissioners and Richardson to a Georgia wine and golf resort in January 2014. Board members produced the agency’s strategic plan and needed to get away to focus, Richardson said, defending the expense.
Mayor Wright proposed sending a council member to each Housing Authority meeting.
Under the law, Wright has the power the appoint members to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, which oversees the executive director and sets policy.
“In a moral sense, we have some responsibility,” Wright said. “This is something that needs to be done.”
The Hickory Housing Authority uses a $5 million annual budget to manage roughly 300 units and provide services for the poor. HUD investigators in 2012 cited the organization for mismanaging more than $500,000 and ordered the money repaid.
An audit revealed the Housing Authority had awarded a maintenance contract to a business owned by a commissioner’s brother. It also found the agency had awarded a landscaping contract to Richardson’s estranged husband.
Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027