By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
Boyne City Housing Commission Executive Director Sheila Smith was fired during a special meeting on Aug. 8, but the details surrounding the matter have been sparse at best. Based on an anonymous tip, the Boyne City Gazette began attempting to contact housing commissioners, the housing commission headquarters and Boyne City Housing Commission President Yvonne Looze Wednesday Aug. 10 and for weeks thereafter, to no avail.
After a week-and-a-half of fruitless attempts, Looze finally responded on Friday Aug. 19 to say she would be out of town for the weekend. When called back that same day for comment, she refused to speak with the Gazette. The Gazette received a call from an unidentified individual on Aug. 22, who apologized for ducking the calls. This individual said he/she was directed not to speak to the Gazette and, further, to forward all messages to Looze.
Finally, on Tuesday Aug. 23, Looze returned calls for an interview. “There were ongoing employment and personnel issues,” Looze said of Smith’s firing. The position has been filled, temporarily, by interim housing commission director Brenda Thompson. Smith had worked for the housing commission since September, 2006.
The housing commission was scheduled to meet for its regular meeting on Thursday Aug. 25, but the meeting was cancelled and then held on Friday Aug. 26.
During the Friday meeting, the housing commission voted to give the interim housing director a raise, but the dollar amount of the raise voted on was not divulged by Looze or any of the housing commissioners present during the open meeting. When asked for the amount following the meeting, Looze refused to release the information. When asked for a copy of the same agenda packet which the commissioners possessed, Looze refused. She instructed Boyne City Gazette Publisher Chris Faulknor to fill out a Freedom of Information Act request to attempt to receive any of the public documents.
When asked why simple agenda packet items were not freely given to the public, Looze said, “I can’t answer that. I don’t know. It’s just been the guidance I’ve been given.”
Looze said she would be happy to “look at it” but couldn’t “blanket say yes” to requests for public information. She added, “If you’d like me to check on FOIA rules and get up to speed on them I would be more than happy to.” During the same time Looze was refusing to give the public information to the public, she said, “I’m not trying not to do it. I’m also trying to make sure we’re doing everything how we’re supposed to do it.”
It should be noted that all other Boyne City governmental entities post their agenda packets online and give them freely upon request.
Thompson did not return a call placed to the Boyne City Housing Commission by press time. Looze suggested giving Thompson a raise and making her position salaried. “She’s going to take on a lot of responsibility and one of the ways that the board can show we’re behind her is to compensate her for the responsibilities she’s gonna assist us with as we go down this path of progress,” Looze said. “It’s a great way to show her that the board’s behind her.” Looze added, “My recommendation is we take her recommendation and put her on salary with her wage increase.” Jerry Kelts said, “To put her on salary, are you going to base it on 50 hours per week?”
Looze said she didn’t know.
Kelts suggested giving Thompson an increase in pay, but to wait “a month or so” before making her position salaried. “The motion has been made and seconded to increase the interim director by the amount requested and to review her in 30 days,” Looze said. The motion was unanimously passed. Boyne City Housing Commissioner Nord Schroder was absent from the meeting.
The housing commission will next meet at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 22, at the commission office located at 829 S. Park St. in Boyne City. They can be reached by calling (231) 582-6203. The Boyne City Gazette has filed to separate Freedom of Information Act requests for documents concerning Smith’s firing and Thompson’s raise.