JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City Housing Authority (JCHA) board members fired Executive Director Richard McClain Monday after more than 90 minutes of closed door session with an outside attorney.
The board voted 4-0 in a called meeting to terminate McClain, who has led the organization for more than a decade, after hearing a verbal report from Eric Reecher, a Bristol attorney. The JCHA board had enlisted Reecher as a “consultant” to look into various employee complaints and interview staff, emails sent to News Channel 11 reveal.
Several current and former employees — some of whom spoke about complaints they’d filed with JCHA Board Chairman Colin Johnson — waited outside during the executive session.
Johnson would not comment on the firing after the vote. The motion by board member Ted Ganger was to terminate McClain “without cause” despite the lengthy meeting with Reecher. Johnson refused to even acknowledge the board had engaged Reecher to look into complaints, referring reporters to JCHA minutes from earlier this year.
“If you choose to use the information you’ve been given, and obviously you can direct the narrative however you want, we can talk about it at that point, but right now it’s an unfortunate situation and I don’t see a need getting into it,” Johnson said.
Emails between Johnson and an employee show the board first learned of potential issues on Nov. 18. JCHA’s attorney, Andy Wampler, then emailed the then-anonymous employee on Nov. 24 to let him know Johnson had shared the message with him.
“JCHA has policies in place to protect employees who make disclosures such as this and to prevent retaliation,” Wampler wrote. “He would like an opportunity to discuss your message with you. Is there a convenient time to schedule a meeting?”
The email, which was from current leasing and marketing administrator John Coleman, led ultimately to the investigation conducted by Reecher.
Wampler, replying to a Jan. 24 email from Coleman that had expressed concern about the pace of any investigation or action against McClain, referenced Wampler and Johnson having met with Coleman in December. That email said “we indicated that actions with the staff would likely not begin until sometime in January but to let us know if there were new developments. You have expressed concerns about management decisions, a tense or hostile environment, and favoritism.”
The termination is effective immediately and leaves the board without a director who had expanded JCHA’s scope and reach significantly in recent years. Per his contract, McClain will be paid for 90 days but won’t be back at work.
Johnson expressed confidence that JCHA’s other upper management staff and overall employee team were capable of keeping JCHA running smoothly until a new executive director can be found. He said the search is likely to start very soon.
While Johnson was mum on any potential reasons for the firing, former and current employees spoke of complaints they had filed beginning in November, including directly to Johnson. Two of those present had been terminated on the same day last November, they say without warning and without any negative reports in their personnel files.
One of those employees, Tammy Milhorn, said McClain told her Nov. 16 the tenant accounts receivable position was being eliminated, but showed News Channel 11 a posting for the same position that was posted less than two weeks later.
Milhorn’s former supervisor, Trevia Bise, was also at the meeting Monday. The accounts manager for budgets and ledgers was fired Nov. 16, 2021 after seven years on the job. She said her termination letter listed no cause, and that when she asked McClain he said “I had let the voucher program run out of money.”
Bise said she wasn’t in a role that allowed her any control over how much money that voucher program had in it.
Coleman, the employee whose complaints News Channel 11 has, was also present. Bise said she was there “to support him, and I’m here to support the ones who are still under his rule and who are suffering. I’m not looking for anything for myself.”
Immediately after the vote, McClain said he didn’t know why he was being fired. His attorney, Lois Shults-Davis, was also at the meeting. Afterward she said she wouldn’t discuss details other than to suggest that some issues were raised during Reecher’s investigation.
“We don’t know what the reasons are,” she said. “He gave documentation as to every issue that had been raised and so at this point he’s just recognizing the parties’ respective rights and privileges.”
Davis said board’s action basically says “they are terminating him without any cause. No reason for it. And that would be consistent with what we’ve shared with the board.”