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Unrest continues over West Carthage Housing Authority management

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WEST CARTHAGE — In the wake of the dismissal of the West Carthage Housing Authority executive director, Mayor Scott M. Burto held a listening session Saturday to hear the concerns of tenants.

On Wednesday, the Housing Authority board of directors voted to terminate Executive Director Brian J. Wohnsiedler and declined to accept the resignation of its housing manager, Sarah J. Millard.

Mr. Burto said since that time he has received numerous phone calls and messages from tenants and has talked with members of the board of directors.

About 30 tenants from the three Housing Authority units, five of the seven members of the authority board and three of the five members of the village board attended the meeting.

Mayor Burto said he organized the meeting since the village board appoints the housing board and it was concerned the tenants’ needs were not being met.

Some in the audience offered comments supporting Mr. Wohnsiedler; others supported the board.

“I would like to know why Brian was released. ... I don’t know anything he did wrong,” said James Cassoni, a West Side Terrace resident.

Others called out, “The board wouldn’t listen to us” and “They treated us like low-level citizens — they would not give us concrete answers.”

“Was Brian told he wasn’t doing right? Was he given a chance to change?” Mr. Cassoni asked.

Rita Milewski, a West Side Terrace resident, said she had visited each apartment in her building asking tenants to sign a petition to get Mr. Wohnsiedler back and to inform tenants of Saturday’s meeting.

“Sarah chose to resign. What’s the flak? Everyone is looking for jobs,” Eleanor Cassoni said.

Mrs. Cassoni said Mrs. Millard had been offered the director job when Nancy A. Fargo retired in January. However, according to board Chairman Dean P. Johnson, Mrs. Millard was told at that time she could submit an application, but did not.

“Tenants should not have been involved to the extent they were,” said William W. Thompson, a past president of the West Side Terrace Tenant Association. “It’s a board-employee thing, not a tenant thing.”

Ms. Milewski said tenants were encouraged to go to the first special meeting March 19 “to save Sarah.”

“It’s unfortunate; you should not be in a position to choose between employees,” Mr. Burto said. He read two letters he had received from tenants, stating there has been “a great lack of communication”; “Brian has not been given a chance”; “Has Brian been accused of any wrongdoing — unethical behavior, harassment, misappropriation of funds?”

Mr. Johnson, clarifying the board’s point of view, said that when Mrs. Fargo announced her plans to retire, the board advertised for the position through sources in Watertown and Syracuse and received 25 applications from throughout the state. It was looking for someone with experience in running a housing unit and knowledge of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Farmers Home Administration requirements. It interviewed five who seemed to have the best work experience but was not pleased with the results and went back to the pool of applicants.

The board also determined it wanted someone local for the position, Mr. Johnson said. Although Mr. Wohnsiedler of Harrisville had none of the experience the board was seeking, it granted him an interview.

“Brian gave us the right answers. He is a personable person,” Mr. Johnson said.

He said the board informed Mr. Wohnsiedler of the duties of the position, which included helping clear out apartments and preparing them for rental.

“He knew what was expected and agreed,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Wohnsiedler was hired in November and trained under Mrs. Fargo for three months, taking over the directorship Feb. 3.

Mr. Johnson said Mrs. Fargo expressed concerns to a board member over Mr. Wohnsiedler’s training before her retirement. However, these concerns were not brought before the full board. One of the concerns was that Mr. Wohnsiedler never took notes during his training.

After Mr. Wohnsiedler’s dismissal, Mr. Johnson found an email in which the executive director contacted the town of Wilna Housing Authority for help on his first day in the position.

“At the Feb. 18 regular housing meeting, we didn’t hear of any problems, but just before the March meeting, we received a list of concerns from Sarah,” Mr. Johnson said.

He said board members Ronald J. Novak and Robert J. Bookser went over the concerns with Mr. Wohnsiedler. During the March meeting, Mr. Wohnsiedler received a vote of confidence from three of the five board members present.

Mr. Johnson said Mr. Wohnsiedler tried to implement changes without board approval, communicated only with certain board members, talked of cutting one of the two maintenance employees and was disgruntled about helping turn over apartments.

“Just 45 days after he started, the place is coming apart at the seams,” Mr. Johnson said. “When it affects tenants, it’s a real problem.”

The Housing Authority board will hold its regular meeting at 6 p.m. April 21 at West Side Terrace. At that time the board will determine how to proceed.

Mr. Johnson left open the possibility of rehiring Mr. Wohnsiedler. He also said Mrs. Millard is still working in her capacity as housing manager and would consider the director position if it were offered to her.

“If you hire someone else, what’s to say the same damn thing won’t happen?” Doris Stevens of Grand View Court asked.

Rose McCue of William J. Dalton Estates questioned whether Mrs. Millard was qualified to be executive director. Mr. Johnson said she had acted as director during Mrs. Fargo’s two-month absence but would have to undergo Public Housing Management certification, as Mr. Wohnsiedler had.

For the next two weeks, Mr. Johnson said, he will continue to oversee the day-to-day activity of the housing authority and aid Mrs. Millard. Mrs. Fargo also has offered her assistance.

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