City official fired two years too late

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Posted May 19, 2009 by betty.brink in Blotch

Jerome Walker joined the ranks of the unemployed last week. The long-time deputy director of Fort Worth’s housing and economic development department was unceremoniously fired on May 7 by his boss, department director Jesus Chapa, whose blistering termination letter to Walker was the equivalent of a trip to the woodshed with Pa and a two-by-four.

The reasons for dismissal ranged from “poor quality work [in new and rehabilitated houses for the low-income and the poor], poor customer service [and] inappropriate use of grant funds to an overall disregard of management oversight and control.” Walker’s biggest sin was his misuse of millions of dollars of federal funds, which threatened the city’s future federal funding.

Among the long list of charges leveled at the former deputy director in the Chapa letter were many that had been reported by Fort Worth Weekly in investigative stories published in 2007 ( see here ) prompting a number of letter writers to call for Walker’s firing. But it took two years and threats by the Office of Housing and Urban Development to withhold federal funds from the department to finally get Walker kicked out of his $150,000 post.

For at least one of Walker’s former employees, the firing was too long in coming. The woman, who was fired when she raised hell about the way the department was misusing federal money, was an anonymous source for the Weekly’s investigative articles. She doesn’t feel vindicated, but still victimized, she said in an e-mail.

“I am the one who was terminated for doing my job … . I am the one who has been three years without a job or benefits. … The city owes me an apology, not to mention several years of income,” she said.

She wrote further that at the time of her firing “numerous requests and pleadings” were made to Dale Fissler (then Walker’s boss, now city manager), Mayor Mike Moncrief and then-city manager Charles Boswell, to no avail. Her charges, as reported in the Weekly, were in most respects identical to the reasons Chapa gave for Walker’s firing.

As deputy director, Walker’s failure to address the HUD issues could have resulted in the delay or loss of $6.6 million in federal funding for some of the city’s most needed community services. But after Chapa intervened and submitted the detailed information that Walker refused to send, HUD relented and has now agreed to release the funds, the letter said.

The former housing department worker is not only angry for her loss, but also for the city‘s. She told officials what was going on, she said, but no one would listen.

“The real losers are the poor homeowners who still have to live in those shoddy houses,” she said.

Jason Lamers, city hall spokesman said that the poor construction issues are being addressed. These housing programs are “extremely important,” he said, “especially during the economic conditions we’re faced with. …. We don’t take this lightly, and that’s why we’ve taken immediate corrective action to ensure these programs are responsive to the needs of our community. We believe we’ve made enormous progress to put the housing program back on track going forward.”


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