GREAT BARRINGTON — The Select Board will soon decide whether to hold a hearing to address a complaint one Housing Authority Board commissioner filed against another related to health violations at Flag Rock Village.
The violations found by the Board of Health and its agent include mold so potent it forced a tenant and her child to sleep in their car, according to board member Eileen Mooney.
Mooney filed a complaint against board Chairman James Mercer, claiming he refused to notify authority members about seven health violations in the tenant's unit.
The health board issued an order to the authority July 1 to correct the problems by Aug. 12. While some violations were fixed by that deadline, the more serious problems related to ventilation and the source of mold have not yet been resolved, according to Rebecca Jurczyk, the town's health agent.
Jurczyk's corrective order came after a July 1 inspection. It identified the ventilation system as responsible for moisture in a bedroom that led to mold and mildew — and asked that a third party evaluate it.
That has not happened yet, Jurczyk said. The health board is still working with the authority to fix the violations. If this doesn't happen in roughly a week, the matter will go to that board for a review and could end up in Housing Court if unresolved, she said.
Other violations in the unit included a broken door handle and lock, a broken dishwasher, and an unusable shower.
Select Board Chairman Stephen Bannon said that Town Manager Mark Pruhenski is preparing to bring Mooney's allegations against Mercer to the board, which will decide whether or not to hold a hearing.
Mooney's complaint says that when she raised the issue at the authority's Aug. 19 meeting, Mercer told her that the matter was not the board's responsibility.
Mooney, who lives at Flag Rock, which is in Housatonic, also accuses Mercer of not responding to her request to place the matter on that meeting agenda, and muting her at that telephone meeting when members were given the opportunity to speak.
In response to her claims, Mercer said state rules governing public housing require Authority Executive Director Tina Danzy to bring issues to the board before members can weigh in.
The health violations are on the authority's agenda for its next board meeting, set for the third week of September. Mercer said he did not know the exact date.
Mercer said Mooney "went cowboy" on the matter to get attention, and that she still has "sour grapes" because she wasn't elected board chair.
It's not the first unrest at the authority, which manages more than 100 units for low-income, senior and disabled residents at Flag Rock Village in Housatonic, Dewey Court in Sheffield and Brookside Manor in Great Barrington.
It's also not the first time mold problems have surfaced. A 2015 complaint about debilitating mold spiraled into legal action by a tenant, and led to a $40,000 settlement.
Internal fighting, personality clashes, tenant complaints and financial disarray have plagued the board and staff over the past decade and led to resignations. A 2018 audit found the authority's finances in chaos.
More recently, internal relations have been tempestuous, with staff accusing Mooney of weighing down operations with public records requests, and Mooney, a longtime journalist and publisher of the NEWSletter, fighting for what she says is needed transparency.
Mooney has previously leveled other charges against Mercer for Open Meeting Law violations and what she says is secrecy regarding authority financial matters.
Last year, the Attorney General's Office determined the authority violated the Open Meeting Law twice in 2018, after Mooney filed complaints before she was elected to the board.
She says she still has concerns about financial oversight of the authority's budget of over $700,000. The authority receives funding from the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Mooney says she acted out of concern for the health of tenants. The tenant and her child had been renting motel rooms or sleeping in a car because of mold. Mooney said she also wanted to ask the board if the cost of the tenant's rent could be cut as a result, or whether she would be reimbursed for nights spent at a motel.
Jurczyk, the health agent since 2017, said this is the first time she's had a mold complaint from a tenant in an authority-run unit. She said that from 2015 to 2016, there were "a lot of mold complaints" that were resolved even when legal action continued.
Mooney says the health implications in this third complaint against Mercer creates liability for the authority.
She said Mercer is deliberately keeping the board uninformed. Mercer says Mooney's complaint is a "distraction" from all the good the authority staff and director are doing, like securing grant money.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.