Kenner — Kenner officials are investigating reports that one of the city’s code inspectors released confidential information about residents’ complaints that led to one woman being confronted by her neighbor.
Inspection and Code Enforcement Director Tamithia Shaw confirmed that the city is examining complaints made by Patricia Davis that code inspector Alan Howland told people in her community she was making complaints about their violations, which Davis said led to her being threatened. However, Shaw declined to discuss Davis’ concerns or the status of the investigation because it was a “personnel” matter.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Shaw said.
The code enforcement office said that all comments on the issue needed to be cleared by Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s office. An email to Yenni’s office was not returned.
Davis said her problems with Howland began in 2009. Davis is the president of the Lincoln Manor Civic Association, and that group has advocated for the predominantly African-American community for years. That has included pushing to keep a playground open and to have more city resources dedicated to the area. The group’s work also includes attempts to reduce blight and other nuisances in the community.
“Anything that would help enhance the neighborhood, we do” Davis said.
Davis said the organization has tried to persuade residents to work harder to keep up their properties by removing trash and junked cars because that improves the profile and property values of homes. She acknowledges that as part of that effort, some members of the organization have reported violations of the city’s code that appeared to be ignored by code inspectors in the area.
When residents make complaints, the city’s code inspectors have to investigate those complaints, and that’s where Davis’ issues with Howland began, she said. Davis said Howland was the code inspector who handled the Lincoln Manor area and had to investigate complaints.
Davis said she began receiving reports from residents that Howland informed them that she was the one complaining about their properties, even when that wasn’t true. He was also insulting her and other members of the civic group, she said.
“He would just go about and slander my name to the community,” Davis said.
Davis is particularly upset because she was told the city’s complaint process was confidential. City officials confirmed that rule at a recent council meeting.
Davis feels like it is a violation of city guidelines for Howland to breach that confidentiality. She added that at one point a male neighbor confronted her at home because he’d been told by Howland that she reported violations about his property.
Davis said she had to contact the police in that incident. In another incident, a community member approached one of Davis’ relatives to complain after hearing from Howland that she reported him to the city, she said.
Davis said she finds that entire situation troubling and has considered leaving the civic association.
“It’s gotten to the point where I’m watching my property more,” Davis said. “I have gotten to the point where I don’t want to be involved with it anymore.”
Davis said she reported her concerns to city officials several years ago and met with Howland and his previous superior. That resulted in Howland being moved to another area for a while, but he later returned to Lincoln Manor, Davis said.
Now Davis said that city officials are telling her that she has to find residents to confirm that Howland revealed the information and present those residents to them.
Davis said she can’t understand why he’s so antagonistic toward residents reporting code violations and trying to improve their neighborhood.
“My perception is that he doesn’t think we’re supposed to do better,” said Davis, who added that moving Howland to another area isn’t enough anymore. “I think something more serious should happen … He’s jeopardizing people’s lives.”
Councilman Gregory Carroll said he’s aware of Davis’ complaints, which she and another resident presented to the council formally in January. Carroll said he’s asked the city administration to report back to him once it’s completed its investigation. However, Carroll said that until that investigation is complete, it’s unfair to jump to conclusions or speculate on what should be done.
“As you know, there’s always three sides to a story,” Carroll said. “Once the investigation is complete, then we are going to be able to take action.”
Carroll stressed that his primary goal is making sure residents have confidence in the city’s willingness to handle their problems.
If residents don’t feel safe, they won’t help the city root out issues.
“We want to ensure that our citizens can feel comfortable about calling in if actions are not good for the community,” Carroll said.