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Southern Nevada Housing Authority director under scrutiny

As the embattled executive director of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority enters formal mediation over accusations involving misuse of agency resources and failure to follow policies, a 2014 investigation of gender discrimination and mismanagement allegations will be excluded from the process.

Executive Director John Hill, who has led the agency that provides housing to low-income families since 2010, is under fire from several housing authority commissioners who claim he’s violated multiple agency policies and used the authority’s staff to work a charity event involving his wife at University Medical Center, according to records obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The 2014 investigation, spurred by complaints from female housing authority executives, show that criticism of Hill isn’t just coming from the top down, but also from the bottom up.

“Although Mr. Hill denies that he performed the activities with a discriminatory motive, it nevertheless appears that Mr. Hill is unknowingly engaging in subtle forms of gender discrimination,” according to the investigation, which was never made public and is considered confidential — the reason given for its exclusion from mediation. “From the conversations with Mr. Hill, he is very regretful of how his actions affected managers and has committed to discontinue the behavior that the female executives complained of.”

The recent troubles aren’t the first time Hill has been at the center of controversy. The upcoming mediation and the 2014 investigation are just two of many issues dogging the agency, its leader and its oversight board. Two senior staff members at the authority were terminated in April, female employees have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and there’s at least one case involving the authority pending before the state’s Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board.

Housing Authority Chairman Robert Noyes said he wasn’t ready to discuss the various problems faced by the agency, which has an annual budget of about $150 million.

“I don’t believe in washing our dirty laundry in the public until everything has been resolved and we are working to get everything resolved,” he said on Tuesday.

PENDING MEDIATION

Hill’s mediation with authority commissioners, which will be overseen by former District Judge Jackie Glass, was scheduled to begin on Friday. The agency’s lawyer Theodore Parker said Tuesday the closed procedure has been pushed back to the first week in August, but wasn’t able to provide the specific date.

Commissioner and Rev. Dave Casaleggio, who is one of six commissioners on Hill’s mediation committee, said the investigation was excluded because it’s a confidential document and, according to Parker, contains attorney-client information.

Parker said it was the committee that decided what issues should be subject to mediation.

The 2014 investigation also is unrelated to the mediation, which was triggered by comments in a series of meetings — a Jan. 28 retreat to discuss goals for Hill, followed by meetings in February and April, Parker said.

During the April 28 meeting, attempts were made to terminate Hill’s contract without cause, according to meeting minutes.

Hill attended the meeting with attorney Andrew Rempfer. Ultimately, a motion passed to give Rempfer 30 days to defend Hill in preparation for mediation.

UNFAIR PRACTICES ALLEGED

The investigation of gender discrimination allegations was prompted by an email sent by Commissioner Dora LaGrande to all commissioners on Feb. 4, 2014, expressing concerns about Hill’s unfair practices with women on his executive team, according to documents obtained by the Review-Journal.

LaGrande in her email explained that she had received calls from women in the agency’s senior staff, some of whom reported losing their hair because of the “overwhelming burden” of dealing with Hill.

Soon after the email was sent, an “independent investigation” was launched by Parker Nelson & Associates, the same law firm authority attorney Theodore Parker is with. The law firm has a contract with the agency, but the investigation requested by Casaleggio cost close to an additional $30,000.

On June 5, 2014, housing authority commissioners held a special meeting and went into a closed session on the investigation. “Mr. Parker directed that the tape not be turned on and asked all staff to leave the room,” according to a copy of the meeting minutes.

Under state law, a public agency is required to record public and closed meetings.

Parker denied that he ordered the audio recorder not to be turned on. In a letter Parker later sent to commissioners, he called the lack of recording a mistake, and on Tuesday said he had self-reported the potential violation to the Nevada attorney general’s office. The agency never heard back regarding any findings.

Commissioner William O. McCurdy, who has been on the board for about two months, learned of the 2014 gender discrimination investigation when he was called by a Review-Journal reporter. He said he was going to request a copy of the findings.

“I’m going to look into the investigation and I’m going to make sure that the recommendations were followed through,” he said on Tuesday.

The investigation recommended that Hill attend “an intensive course on the prevention of harassment and discrimination as well as a cultural sensitivity course.” It also recommended that he take “intensive executive training and leadership class(es).”

Commissioners disagree on whether those recommendations were followed and Hill declined to comment on the matter.

In the investigation’s final report, dated April 28, 2014, one of the woman interviewed said Hill “does not respect women as professionals and sees them as beneath men.”

Another woman indicated that Hill gave men more latitude and was more harsh with women if they didn’t get things done.

The investigation also found financial issues such as bills not being paid on time and mismanagement in the procurement department.

Several women, including at least two who were interviewed in the 2014 housing authority investigation, have filed complaints with the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission for unfair treatment involving Hill.

The agency is also under fire for the the April 1 terminations of Shannon Gammie, director of affordable housing, and Sharon Williams, director of human resources, according to the authority’s June grievance hearing reports. They were terminated by Hill after an email search was conducted and found the two had sent messages to commissioners, although details of the communications haven’t been disclosed.

In November, a case will be heard by the Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board regarding housing authority employee furloughs under an expired agreement.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3843. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro

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