IHA suspends whistleblower over confidentiality rules

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Last Wednesday afternoon, Laurelwood resident liaison Sandra Bailey presented Joe Hogsett with a gift bag for his wife as the mayor and IMPD Chief Bryan Roach walked the south side public housing community.

They heard complaints of mismanagement, poor maintenance and increased crime from the neighbors.

On Friday morning, Miss Bailey, as she is known within the townhome community, was served with a three-day suspension for allegedly violating confidentiality rules of the Indiana Housing Agency as she took a complaint about a resident who was a safety threat to neighbors and staff above the heads of her bosses.

“It was an unsafe thing to have that individual here based on she had already committed violence in the workplace with the employee…and I feel like I needed to reach out to HUD because I feel like the young lady should have been gone right away because there was a problem in the community,” said Miss Bailey after being served with a two-page suspension notice.

“Even with that I feel like it was a retaliation. They had to find something to come at me with, and I will say this openly, I guess they will be scrutinizing me on what I’m typing on my computer, things of that nature," she went on to say.

Miss Bailey has lived at Laurelwood for ten years, where she is currently president of the residents’ council. She also serves on the Indianapolis Citizen Empowerment Foundation, the umbrella organization that represents all IHA residents’ councils, the Insight Development Board, IHA’s not-for-profit operating arm, and is an IHA Resident Services Specialist.

It is in that last role, in an attempt to protect both neighbors and Laurelwood office staff from a resident she deemed to be a threat, that Miss Bailey said she was at first unsuccessful in gaining support from IHA management before sending her email to HUD.

“That is still within the family though,” said Ashley Simmons, a resident who also spoke to the mayor during his walk through the community. “There is no confidentiality break. If it’s the parent organization of IHA, they’re one and the same. They’re still the same company. So it doesn’t matter if you send an email to someone up above you or not, that is still the same community, this is still the same organization. If you go online, HUD is IHA.”

In its suspension notice, IHA found Miss Bailey violated an agency policy to not reveal confidential information about residents to a third party, even if that third party is the federal department that funds the public housing entity’s annual $65 million budget to house 22,000 low income people.

“The Indianapolis Housing Agency is legally bound to hold personnel matters involving our employees to the strictest levels of confidentiality. Bearing this in mind we are unable to respond to your request at this time,” wrote an IHA contracted spokesperson when asked to confirm Miss Bailey’s suspension.

This past summer, state and federal auditors found financial irregularities within the IHA operation resulting in $2 million in accounts receivable write-offs and an inability to track another $200,000 in missing funds.

The HUD Office of Inspector General is currently investigating the agency, a probe that began two weeks after longtime Executive Director Rufus Bud Myers abruptly quit after 18 years on the job.

FOX59 came into possession of surveillance camera video of Myers before his departure shredding documents at IHA headquarters that he claimed was ordinary housekeeping.

The IHA spokeswoman said the shredding was done with the approval of and in the presence of agency legal staff, though Myers is observed as the only person in the office during the hours of surveillance video obtained by FOX59.

Hogsett has said he is committed to an “overhaul” of top IHA management, has launched a national search for an executive director, anticipates the appointment of a new chief operating officer and is aware of a City-County Council proposal that will in essence give the mayor, the council and the residents the opportunity to name a new nine-member IHA Board of Commissioners in March.

Back at Laurelwood, residents said they fear if they speak up, they could be next to face eviction or sanctions.

“I think they did it on purpose,” said Simmons after she learned of Miss Bailey’s suspension. “They don’t want us saying anything. They know what’s going on in these communities. They just don’t want to fix them.

“Miss Bailey, for example. She’s a grown woman. She’s a woman of God. She has a job. She takes care of what she needs to take care of. There is no reason for them to come after her like that,” said Simmons. “It doesn’t matter if we’re just talking to Miss Bailey or we’re talking to you or anybody else out here, we still feel like at any moment we can be kicked out.”

Another resident told FOX59 last month that she feared being penalized after speaking out about maintenance issues.

Two weeks later, the mother of four was served with an eviction notice for failure to pay rent in August and September, as a partial protest over a lack of maintenance, even though she had more than 50% of her current and rent areas in hand and was turned down in seeking a hardship exemption to find more time to raise the rest of the balance in early October.

IHA Interim Executive Director Jennifer Green, who accompanied Hogsett on his walk through Laurelwood, has scheduled an off-camera media briefing with reporters Monday afternoon.

Miss Bailey said the suspension without pay will not quiet her about alleged mismanagement inside IHA.

“That’s not gonna shut me up,” said Miss Bailey. “I don’t shut up when it comes to God and I don’t shut up when it comes to man.”