Knives drawn in Ontonagon: Housing Commission Board member calls for staff ‘leaves’

Skip Schulz/For the Gazette Ontonagon Village Housing Commission member Richard Ernest, second from left, moved to suspend the commission’s office staff on Monday. To Ernest’s right is Dorothy Phillips. To his left are Pam Cooey, Joe Erickson, Sue Kempen and Sally Jarvey.

ONTONAGON — The Village Housing Commission Board on Monday declined to support a member’s motion calling for suspensions of executive director Sally Jarvey and secretary Sue Lockhart.

Numerous village and commission residents, along with an Ontonagon County Sheriff’s Department Deputy, were on hand to hear board member Richard Ernest make the motion: “At this time I would like to (place) Director Jarvey and Secretary Lockhart on mandatory administrative leave for an indefinite period, effective immediately.”

Commissioner Joe Erickson, also Ontonagon’s village manager, seconded the motion.

This led to an uproar from audience members.

Ernest and Erickson voted in support, while Pam Coey, Sue Kempen and Dorothy Phillips voted against the motion, so the motion failed.

Board members then discussed how staff functions would be done.

“We would have to search out. There’s a lot of management companies,” Ernest said. “We could hire somebody to maintain the office. We would have to notify HUD.”

Ernest said the board has not been getting the information it has requested for the last two years.

“All we have wanted was questions answered, documentation and receipts. Our commission’s attorney stated we have the right to get this information requested, without continued interruptions from the staff.”

Commission Board member Dorothy Phillips said she would not know where to locate the information Ernest sought.

“We would hire somebody,” responded Ernest. “I asked our attorney what our options were. She stated something harsher. I think it is better to give them time off and pay them for it.”

Ernest was asked by Erickson what the board specifically was looking for in regard to information.

Ernest responded, “Nothing particular.”

This response drew an outburst from the audience in the crowded conference room.

“You would have to go through the meeting minutes and see all the information that we have not received,” he said. “This is what we’re looking for.”

Commission President Pam Cooey stated the board needs to work together with the staff.

“We’ve tried this for two years. It’s gotten out of control. We’ve asked for things and been refused,” Ernest said.

“We’ve called HUD (Housing and Urban Development), and they told us what we are supposed to do,” explained Jarvey. “With what you want in writing, HUD said they would talk to the attorney.”

Ernest continued to state the OHVC could hire a management company to get the information that he has requested.

Erickson laughed when Jarvey stated the funds to hire a management company were not in the budget.

Ernest stated the board originally had Lockhart at 32 hours a week, then increased her hours per week to 35.

“And what are we getting in return?” he asked.

Cooey asked if it was an option to suspend one of them instead of both.

Ernest stated that it would be up to the attorney as to the best option. One of which is to have Jarvey return to the office to help locate the information that Ernest is looking for.

Housing Commission residents in attendance said they wanted to have someone in the office to address day-to-day issues.

Cooey and Phillips both said the office needed to be staffed.

The other OVHC employee is Billy Marks, who does maintenance for the commission under the direction of Jarvey.

“What do I do then, Rich?” asked Marks.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” replied Ernest.

Marks left the meeting in disgust.

TOMORROW: Board members Erickson and Ernest press for information they’ve been wanting for several months.