Two top officials in Toledo’s embattled neighborhoods department have been fired amid ongoing city and federal investigations.
Kattie Bond, Department of Neighborhoods director, and Mike Badik, housing commissioner, received termination letters from the city Tuesday afternoon, according to Mayor Mike Bell.
The firings occurred two days after a story in The Blade described how a local contractor with a long criminal history, Gregory M. Harris, continued to receive work on city-administered home-rehab projects even after his daughter, who is the vice president of her father’s company, was arrested at one of the projects with 55 pounds of marijuana in the bed of her company truck.
The firings are the latest development in Toledo’s ongoing internal investigation of the department. That investigation was prompted by a previous Blade story that detailed allegations of bid rigging, favoritism, and poor supervision in the department, which spends millions in federal housing money each year.
Although Mayor Bell said Tuesday the terminations were a result of the investigation, he declined to elaborate. He said the city’s probe has reached its peak but did not give a specific deadline for its completion.
He acknowledged Tuesday that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are conducting their own investigations.
“We are moving down the same tracks together and providing any information they want,” the mayor said.
The mayor said Lourdes Santiago, a lawyer in the city’s law department, will be acting director of the neighborhoods department. Kathleen Kovacs, formerly a senior program officer with Local Initiatives Support Corp., will be Ms. Santiago’s deputy, the mayor said.
Hearings for two other department employees who are on paid administrative leave as a result of the investigation — Housing Manager Jody Prude and Rehab Specialist Toni Thomas — are scheduled for Wednesday.
Ms. Bond had been the department’s director since 2007. Mr. Badick had been housing commissioner since 2006.
Ms. Bond’s name surfaced in a November voice-mail message that her employee Ms. Thomas left for local contractor Craig Gordy of Continental Construction.
Mr. Gordy had told The Blade that Ms. Thomas steered him to use a roofing subcontractor with a long criminal record — which is allowed under federal and city rules — but that Ms. Thomas told him not to list the subcontractor on city paperwork.
Ms. Thomas later left Mr. Gordy a voice mail telling him that Ms. Bond wanted him to recant his statements to the newspaper.
Ms. Bond and Mr. Badik did not return phone calls Tuesday.
But the Rev. Cedric Brock of Mount Nebo Baptist Church, who said he has been praying with Ms. Bond, criticized the city’s decision to fire her.
He said the city’s termination notice cited job-performance issues as the reason for Ms. Bond’s firing. “They told her there were too many issues on her watch,” he said.
But Ms. Bond didn’t know about the criminal background of contractors or the drug bust at the rehab project, he said.
“It seems like a set-up, like she’s being kicked under the bus,” he said.
Some members of city council, however, stood behind the mayor’s decision.
“I support the administration and its efforts to correct any issues in the department,” said Adam Martinez, chairman of council’s neighborhoods committee. “It saddens me this is the extreme to which they have to go.”
He said the most recent revelations about work received by Harris raise serious concerns about Friendship New Vision, the local community development organization that acted as developer for many of the projects.
“They’ve been doing this long enough, they should know the contractors, they should know what’s required with oversight,” Mr. Martinez said. “If we can’t depend on them to do good work, create affordable housing, and to make sure there is administrative and code compliance, I’m not sure of the need for these types of organizations.”
Representatives of Friendship New Vision declined to comment.
Mr. Martinez also placed blame on the neighborhoods department.
“I’m also disappointed with the oversight,” he said. “It could potentially jeopardize future funding.”
That federal funding is a significant source of revenue for the city. Last year alone, the city spent more than $27 million in federal housing and development money.
Councilman Tyrone Riley, who just took office, said he was behind the mayor’s decision.
“It appears there was a lack of oversight in the department,” he said. “I think the taxpayer has the right to expect their funds are being used in an appropriate and proper manner.”
He said he looks forward to seeing the results of the administration’s investigation.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, a former Toledo police detective, said he wasn’t surprised by the firings and hoped federal authorities would continue to investigate.
“It would be my hope that the external investigation will continue,” he said.
Staff writer Claudia Boyd-Barrett contributed to this report.
Contact Tony Cook at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6065.