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No pause in pressure on housing authority chief Hill

This figures to be a busy week for John Hill.

Not only is the Executive Director of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority in contract renewal negotiations with the Service Employees International Union, but these days he’s also being asked tough questions about his management style and professional practices.

Current and former employees and housing commissioners have voiced criticism and concern. Others have gone as far as filing gender discrimination complaints and appealing to members of the housing commission as well as Department of Housing and Urban Development officials.

Hill has headed the agency since 2010. It facilitates and maintains low-income housing and has a $150 million annual budget funded through HUD. It’s challenging duty, but it’s also true that some of the grievances now surfacing publicly have been brewing since early in Hill’s tenure.

From failing to comply with the terms of his employment contract to misusing the agency’s resources and overspending on legal assistance, the housing authority executive is surrounded by the smoke of scandal. How much fire lies beneath remains uncertain.

Chief among Hill’s critics are Commissioner Dora LaGrande and former senior staff members Shannon Gammie and Sharon Williams. Gammie and Williams have gender discrimination grievances pending against Hill.

But it’s more than that. A query of several current commissioners shows they’re also deeply troubled by the allegations. Some have lost faith in Hill’s ability to efficiently and professionally run the housing authority.

Hill also has his share of allies on the commission. Chief among them is Father Dave Casaleggio, who according to a May 19 letter to the commission from its counsel Theodore Parker, “requested an estimate of the costs and fees the Board would incur in participating in this mediation process. After Commissioner Casaleggio made the request, Commissioner (Cheria) Goodloe also indicated her interest in knowing what the anticipated costs would be.” The costs were estimated at up to $12,000.

If anyone is counting, that’s still a lot less than the cost of defending two gender discrimination actions against the executive director.

The turmoil on the housing commission puts Parker, who already is being scrutinized by some for his hours and bills, in a difficult position. An excerpt from his May 19 letter to the commissioners illustrates the tightrope he’s walking: “To the extent any of the Commissioners have any additional documentation related to these 22 allegations, please provide the same at your earliest convenience. To the extent there are Commissioners that have additional issues they would like to add to the list or have this group consider, please forward the issues/allegations to my attention. To the extent that there are Commissioners who believe that these issues are invalid and have documentary support for that position, please forward that information.”

Contacted at his office Monday, Hill was about to prepare for a bargaining session with the union and had a full day ahead of him.

The housing authority already has a tumultuous history. Hill’s appointment began with the promise of increased professionalism at an operation where that often had been sorely lacking.

That history aside, the housing authority provides an essential service to some of the community’s most vulnerable citizens. That service must be protected at any cost.

Maybe the contract negotiations will go well this week, and issues important to dozens of working people at the housing authority will be resolved so they can go forward without fear of losing their largely thankless jobs. Perhaps then some of the seemingly weighty allegations facing Hill’s management style and decision making will dissipate like smoke through an open window.

Or will John Hill find himself with even busier weeks to come?

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Contact hi at 702 383-0295, or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. Follow him: @jlnevadasmith

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