By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
Responding to a request by interim Boyne City Housing Commission Director Brenda Thompson, the Boyne City Housing Commission voted to remove her and reappoint her to her former position of programs director.
Thompson had requested the board either send her back to her former position of program manager within the housing commission or make her the director of operations instead of interim director during a special meeting on Sept. 17.
“It’s been clear for a long time that this board doesn’t feel that I’m adequate to do the job so there’s no sense in fighting it any more,” Thompson said.
She added that she will be happy to go back to her former position.
Leading up to the 4-1 vote—Hartlep being the lone “nay” vote—commissioners discussed the issue in detail.
“Our goal was to give Brenda part of the responsibilities and not part until some training was completed,” said Boyne City Housing Commissioner Chuck Vondra. “Obviously that was met, it appeared to be met, with resistance at the last meeting.”
He added, “Given that, we need to find, in my opinion, a director that has the qualifications to do the job in total.”
Vondra said the housing commission is financially insolvent and needs a great deal of management to get it on track.
“If we aren’t going to split the duties like we discussed, then I would recommend that we advertise for an executive director and give Brenda her wish to go back to program manager,” Vondra said.
Boyne City Housing Commissioner Judy Hartlep said she wasn’t sure that was what Thompson meant in her request.
“I think she just wants to get rid of the “interim” title and maybe be made director of programs and operations like we had discussed at one point,” Hartlep said. “Not being able to move forward as she had hoped, given the schooling and classes she had hoped in 13 months I think has been the major problem. I’m sorry she feels the “interim” means just temporary because I don’t look at it like that.”
She added, “I think you are in a very good position to become executive director with more schooling.”
The potential of hiring a consultant to help the board get on track financially and procedurally was again discussed.
During the meeting of Monday Sept. 17 the board had discussed possibly contracting with Jane MacKenzie of Northern Homes CDC.
“If we have the money to hire a consultant why do we not have the funds to send Brenda on to this special schooling and stuff she’s requested that we do?” Hartlep said. “She is going to make a good executive director some day.”
Boyne City Housing Commissioner Heather Nalbock said she was a little surprised at how the conversation unfolded during the Sept. 17 meeting—things became contentious at that meeting when Thompson accused Vondra of lying, some board members were unsure of proper procedures and Thompson had given the board an ultimatum regarding her title.
“I believe that as a director or as an executive director there is a level of skill set that is required for problem-solving, communicating, articulating,” Nalbock said. “I was surprised at the approach of our interim director at the last meeting so I don’t believe that she has the skills to be the director.”
She added, “Based on my experience in the work world, anybody that is a director at least has a bachelor’s degree.”
Nalbock said she feels Thompson has done a fine job as an interim director, but she was “very disappointed” with Thompson’s “disconnect in communications.”
“There sorely is lacking some skills with the financial piece,” Nalbock said. “My recommendation would be that we put her back in the program manager position.”
Boyne City Housing Commissioner Jerry Kelts said he feels Thompson should get the executive director position but only after she receives mentoring and further training.
“We did and that was not acceptable to her,” Nalbock said. “That tells us that she doesn’t want the mentoring, she doesn’t want the training—which we were willing to work with her on—which is part of the reason why I was so disappointed and so surprised.”
She added, “I don’t think Brenda is leaving us a choice.”
Boyne City Housing Commission President Yvonne Looze said the commission has gone “full circle” in the last 13 months.
“I wonder why. That was frustrating from my perspective,” she said. “Whomever we choose to put in that position, they need to be able to educate the board. The commissioners’ training is excellent … but it doesn’t tell me about Boyne City Housing Commission. It doesn’t tell me where we’re going, what needs to be done.”
Looze added, “13 months later I still don’t know. As volunteer members of a commission I put a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of hours into trying to understand, and I’m not getting a good handle on the whole picture of the housing commission and how we structure it to be the best place for the residents.”
Looze’s recommendation was to appoint Thompson to her former position and bring on a new, more qualified executive director.
Hartlep asked if the board can afford to hire an executive director.
Vondra said the board needs to define its needs and look at its budget to solve this issue.
“We have to find a way to this organization solvent and if we do not then it won’t exist and then our charge of providing safe, clean, affordable housing to our residents won’t be met,” Vondra said. “How do we accomplish those things?”
The board discussed not being able to find a director for $50,000 the last time they looked.
Vondra proposed asking Boyne City officials to manage the housing commission until a replacement can be found for Thompson.
“They have all the components that’s needed, and it is my understanding that the city is ultimately responsible for this organization,” Vondra said.
Looze said that my not be the best way to handle the situation and recommended that the board look to another housing commission or another executive director who may choose to step in temporarily.
“How can the city be held responsible or accountable if they cannot be involved?” Vondra said. “That, to me, doesn’t make any sense at all.”
He added, “When this last incident happened and I was called to city hall and there was a lot of suits sitting there and I got all these questions that I had no answer to that I was accountable—I would strongly urge that we try that process if it’s possible.”
Looze said she believes that is an option but she wants guidance from HUD to ensure that is a viable option.
The vote to remove Thompson included motions to begin the process of looking for an executive director and asking the city for help in the interim.