Harriman Housing chief ousted

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By Cindy Simpson

Harriman Housing Authority is looking for new leadership.
Its board voted unanimously to terminate director Sheila Smith, who had been on administrative leave while an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing were explored.
The board consists of chair Wayne Best, Mike Demyanovich, Alicia Harris, Alfrieda Forney and Maria Nelson.
Smith was accused of favoring family, including her son, Zachary Christian, who, since 2011, has been in and out of an HHA residence despite alleged criminal activity.
Attorney Adrienne L. Anderson conducted a report and noted numerous arrests including current possible prosecution for Christian on aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping and possession of drugs at 503 Mee St., a housing authority property on March 13. The alleged victim, who later escaped the home according to Harriman police reports, said that Smith offered money and services if she would not report the incident.
Smith defended her actions, but said in retrospect she’d take a different approach and wanted the opportunity to redeem herself.
Smith’s attorney, James Smith, no relation, read a statement she had prepared to address some of the accusations.
“... After reading Ms. Anderson’s report, I realize now that I failed to consider the fact that it might, probably did, create the perception among HHA’s clientelle that my son was being treated differently, and in retrospect I believe it would have been better for me to evict him immediately after learning of his 2011 arrest,” Smith’s statement said.
Julia Clark, who is now interim director, said when Smith didn’t like someone, the policies were more stringent.
Anderson wrote of numerous red flags.
“I did not discover clear evidence of policy violations directly by Ms. Smith, although the evidence demonstrates that Ms. Smith benefited her family members, and one instance may be the grounds for the questions raised by HUD,” Anderson wrote.
Among the red flags Anderson listed were that Smith inappropriately received both workers compensation temporary disability payments and her full salary during the period of her disability.
Smith said she rectified the workmen’s comp issue upon her return.
“It did not seem right to me for me to be paid workman’s comp and full salary for the eight week period, however, so upon my return I took it upon myself to deduct the entire eight weeks from my vacation time, and I believe a review of the records will verify this.”
Housing authority board member Alicia Harris said the board did permit comp time, particularly when Smith first started, because the filing system at the authority was in such disarray.
When asked about allegations she came and went as she pleased and only worked a few days a week, Smith said she had accumulated so much comp time from not taking any vacation when she took over the director position.
Other accusations were that she used Food City cards and Walmart cards for personal use.
Anderson said the Food City receipts are not itemized, so she cannot analyze individual purchases.
There were also three Walmart credit cards, but Anderson said she could not determine a pattern of misuse.
She does not necessarily believe evidence shows Smith used the cards for personal use but failed to use proper internal controls. Smith agreed more formality needed to be taken with purchasing and that the lax policy was in place long before she became director.
Items were purchased with the Walmart card, and Smith admitted she did not even check invoices but simply pays the bills, according to the report.
 Finally, some employees felt intimidated.
“There is some evidence that Ms. Smith has created an atmosphere of intimidation and unfairness among the HHA staff and tenants.”
Smith said she felt the situation was a personal attack and that she had never even been written up.
However, Anderson found evaluations recommending areas in which Smith could improve in.
During her own statement, Smith pointedly spoke of some employees’ “ambitions.”