Maintenance department quits Apalach Housing Authority

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The two employees who work in the maintenance department of the Apalachicola Housing Authority resigned Thursday afternoon, citing conflicts with the executive director over what they say are problems with enforcement of rules throughout the 54-unit public housing complex.

The decision by Dwight Polous, maintenance manager, and Brandon Polous, the maintenance man, came following a report by Apalachicola attorney Barbara Sanders at the Nov. 18 housing authority board meeting.

Last month, after the two men shared with the board conflicts they were having with Executive Director Stephnia Turrell, Fonda Davis, board chairman, asked Sanders to step in as mediator, which she agreed to do pro bono.

Sanders provided her report at the outset of last week's meeting, noting she had talked with both  Polouses, administrative assistant Wanda Barfield and Turrell. She stressed to both Turrell and the Polouses, each of whom was in attendance, that she was working on behalf of the board, and hoped to provide “a fresh view” on problems both men say exist.

“There are systemic problems, that are probably easily enough for the board to fix,” Sanders said.

She said the employee handbook and job descriptions need to be updated, and policies need to be in written form and clearly communicated to staff.

“The Polouses are on the ground all the time so they know what’s going on,” Sanders said. “There needs to be a system to report to the executive director anything they perceive. Then it’s up to the executive director to fix or take action on the problem.”

Sanders said the authority needs to require employees check in and out of work, because a failure to have such a system in place can place the authority in jeopardy of violating rules mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “You could be sued for triple damages under the Fair Housing Act,” she said.

The lawyer said having a relative supervise another, as is the case with the older Polous overseeing the work of his son, can run afoul of anti-nepotism rules. She said the authroity rules should be made explicit that you can accommodate such an arrangement.

“You have a rule you are not following. It’s just messy,” Sanders said. “You might want to keep that (hiring practice), but you should do it knowingly.”

She went on to address what she called “personnel/personality” issues, which she said would be a harder matter to resolve.

“I can’t solve it, You can’t solve it,” she told the five-person board, which also includes Michael Moron, Nedra Jefferson, Kevin Ward and Pete Adams who occupies the seat reserved for a tenant of the authority.

Sanders said all employees, including the director, are at-will employees, meaning there is no rule preventing them from resigning their jobs.

But, as for a “Kumbaya” moment in which there is reconciliation between the parties, “that’s not going to happen without additional training, both for the staff and the executive director.”

She urged board members to offer additional training to staff and the director, as well as to themselves, much like continuing education that a doctor or lawyer must undertake.

Sanders said Turrell’s training should be “more along the lines of employee management.

“Miss Turrell has a strong personality,” she said. “I do too.”

“You have a pretty devoted staff,” Sanders said. “They’re just having a personality clash.”

The board received the mediator’s report warmly, although Dwight Polous indicated that he did not think it went far enough.

“I’m resigning as maintenance manager,” he said. “I’ve done been attacked; I’m not going to be attacked again.”

Polous said he has seen deficiencies in the operations at the authority, and had gone through the appropriate channels. “I’m not going to be part of it,” he said. “I’m not going to be verbally harassed.

“I’m not going to take this burden around any longer,” Polous said. “I think I’m going to move on with my life.”

Sanders made an effort to address the concerns of Polous, who has worked for the authority for the past 11 years.

“I would ask you again to give this a chance,” she said. “The board has made the effort to see if we can repair this breach of trust.

“What can’t happen is that staff can’t come to the board and say ‘You have to choose between her or me’,” Sanders said. “The two of (you) have different styles.”

Morón suggested a cooling-off period but Polous said no to the idea. “I can’t deal with it no longer,” he said. “I just don’t feel comfortable. One side says one thing, one side says another.

“I’m sorry it’s come to this,” Polous said. “I don’t want no bad feelings with nobody here. This is a personal decision I have to make.”

Although a motion was made to accept Polous’ resignation, Sanders advised that such a move was not necessary.

“I don’t want to lose you,” Ward told Polous. “But that is completely up to you.”

Moments later, Brandon Polous told the board he too would resign.

The board voted to empower Turrell to hire the needed help with maintenance, or with office help, since Barfield had been absent for two days, and might also decide to leave her post.

Turrell said he had heard from Noah Lockley, that he would be willing to step in and help, with Adams also making such an offer.

“I could be an outside contractor until we get this thing resolved,” he said. “If we have to depend on outside contractors, this is going to be a mess.”

The board plans to meet Tuesday to continue the meeting’s other agenda items.

“I never thought it would happen here,” Turrell told the board as the meeting wound down. “It breaks my heart, because I’ve bent over backwards.”

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