New London housing commissioner told to butt out

New London — Citing interference in its day-to-day operations, the New London Housing Authority is attempting to bar one of its own commissioners from stepping onto authority properties or speaking to its employees and residents without management on hand.

Kathleen Mitchell, a mayoral appointee to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and provocateur who is the administrator of a community Facebook page, was issued a warning in a letter dated Sept. 11 from the Housing Authority’s attorney, John Casey.

The letter directs Mitchell to cease all visits to authority property without permission from the executive director and to refrain from “all unsolicited communications with authority residents and employees.” Casey specifically cites a Sept. 6 visit by Mitchell to the George Washington Carver apartments at 202 Colman St., where Mitchell entered the building and “tried to insert yourself in a conversation the employee was having with a resident without any basis for doing so.”

“I also understand in the past you have voiced opinions directly to employees, which are not based in fact, about management decisions,” Casey wrote. “Your actions and statements have caused great concern among Authority employees and residents and have interfered with the relationships between employees and the Executive Director, and residents and the Authority staff.”

Casey warns Mitchell her actions could be considered misconduct under state statutes that govern removal of commissioners from housing boards.

It is unclear who directed Casey to draft the letter. Housing Authority Executive Director Kolisha Fiore, hired by Imagineers LLC, declined to comment on what she deemed an internal matter related to a commissioner. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Betsy Gibson also declined to comment on the letter but said “fake news” and misinformation about the authority have been a problem in the past.

It was less than a year ago that Mitchell’s fellow commissioners voted 3-2 to direct Mayor Michael Passero to remove Mitchell from the board for her alleged bullying and disruptive behavior and intimidation of fellow commissioners on her Facebook page, Whale Tales Two. Passero did not act on the vote or on Mitchell’s calls for a public hearing.

“There is no doubt in my mind they want to get rid of me,” Mitchell said Monday. “I am infuriated by that letter. Don’t tell me I can’t walk around there. ... I was friends with people there before I was a commissioner.”

She said the only reason for the visit to 202 Colman St. was to check on complaints about a clogged drain in the laundry room.

Mitchell argues that it is her skepticism of the authority's motives and questioning of its decisions that have made waves. She was the lone “no” vote on a contract to allow school buses to park at the former Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue. She claims parking school buses on the property violates city zoning regulations.

Mitchell also has questioned Imagineers publicly about the delay in use of a $4.2 million state grant for upgrades at 202 Colman St.

Matt Anderson, director of rental properties for Imagineers, explained at a recent Housing Authority meeting that the initial grant application was flawed and did not include the full scope of work needed. He said Imagineers was attempting to secure millions more in funds, which is the reason for the delay.

Mitchell’s attorney, Jason Burdick, responded to Casey with a letter saying “commissioner Mitchell is at a loss as to how she has done anything but uphold and fulfill her obligations as a Commissioner of the Authority.”

The letter, Burdick writes, makes it appears the authority has something nefarious to hide.

“Or more bluntly, maybe there is a concern on the part of some that Commissioner Mitchell is likely to discover conduct that is illegal, unethical and/or immoral while on the premises of the Authority,” Burdick wrote.

He called for either a public hearing with a neutral hearing officer or for Mitchell to be “left to carry out her official duties for the remainder of her term.”

The commissioners serve five-year terms, and Mitchell was appointed to the board in 2016.

g.smith@theday.com

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