LETTER: City of Framingham Community Development Coordinator Responds To ‘Apartheid-Like & Hostile Environment’

FRAMINGHAM – I have been on leave from my employment with the city of Framingham since Aug. 1, 2019, but in spite of my absence, my name continues to be unflatteringly referenced in the public sphere by the city’s representatives or surrogates.

On Sept. 11, I tuned in to a Finance Subcommittee meeting to find its members, a staffer and local nonprofit operator falsely claiming that I had provided misleading information at spring budget meetings.

Then in an article by the MetroWest Daily News this past weekend, Finance Subcommittee members again mischaracterized budgeted but unspent CDBG funds as “mismanaged.”

The fact is that at past fiscal years’ end, there was no known viable projects on which to invest those moneys. If there were candidates, regulatory requirements or lack of interest by likely community proponents meant funds could not be spent, and so the balance remained in the city’s line of credit for future use.

Finally, yesterday, I awoke to a local, apparently new blog, with unknown-faceless owners having received a copy of the city’s very unflattering characterization of me in an EEOC position statement.

The release erroneously claims that I am suing the city and also clearly indicates that the information it received originated inside city hall with the tone that somehow only the institution defines me and my charges of discrimination, although I have a well-documented voice to the contrary.

No one has contacted me to address the release nor indicated an interest in investigating for its source.

Since this pattern of constant unprovoked discrediting of only me has gone unchecked and continues unabated, I write to defend myself against the misinformation. Please follow the underlined hyperlinks above and below, as I posted them to bolster my arguments and provide better context.

Although my case is multi-layered and complex, I focus on the racial discrimination component because this was the scope of yesterday’s multi-page document.

The release was meant to shame me for being a typical employee wanting recognition for my hard work and pressing for it at the highest levels.

I feel no shame for challenging a plan (slide five) well-designed to deny me a promotion and professional progression, severely adversely affecting my life and harming my earning potential.

To start, when I arrived in Framingham on Nov. 2, 2015, I was blindsided by the news that its Community Development Department was under investigation by the federal government for fund misappropriation that occurred during a period that directly preceded my arrival. I found a lone full-time employee in the department I was hired to oversee with everyone else in the unit fired or gone as well as all programs and services suspended. Though I restored all programming and services to the point of achieving a zero-finding audit within a year of my arrival and winning an
award two years later for my management of US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds, my boss Arthur Robert was always aggressively punitive towards me, the sole black department head outside of the school system and possibly the entire city. I found an amazingly lax office environment. While everyone else enjoyed this very laissez-faire setting, coming and going as they pleased, I was always targeted for punitive action and unpleasant experiences.

My then boss and his deputy director for planning Erika Jerram maintained their pattern of slighting me while elevating others by using a re-organization plan mandated by the new city charter as a pretext for discrimination. The plan promoted all similarly situated white department or division heads, except for me, the black one. All other department or division heads became deputy directors while I reported to someone that the current organizational chart shows is a peer.

Since then, there has been a consistent campaign to diminish me and the role that I had filled for the past several years in words and action, although my job description and internal documents contradict this effort.

See slide five at the organizational chart link for the still current configuration of Community and Economic Development Division departments with a divisional director as head and departmental subdivisions.)

It shows how I head the Community Development Department and am equally ranked, though significantly less paid, than the person filling the planning oversight functions.

The charter called for the re-organization of two city divisions: CFO to incorporate Media and Tech Services and Community and Economic Development (CED) to add the Planning Board and Conservation Commission. See pages 35 and 36 at this link for the charter language. For some reason, only CED’s merge has been pursued. Tech Services still presented as a stand-alone department during the spring budget season.

In October of 2018, there was a first attempt at the CED re-organization when the then director introduced a plan. It was not well received by the City Council, had been in the works since and was re-introduced largely the same in the spring.

In the October 2018 and spring versions of the plan, even though the new division is to be named Planning and Community Development, the Community Development Department’s role as an independent
city arm tending to the needs of underserved residents disappeared.

As for this past spring’s budgetary process for accepting CDBG funds, it was very rough, feeling as a public, fault-finding process. No other department experienced the same scrutiny, and the Finance Subcommittee chair and his colleagues introduced a mismanagement narrative that no explanation counters.

The department also has excess funds from housing rehab because that activity is driven by residents applying for the service. Sometimes people are interested until they discover there is a lien.

As I stated above, I also arrived in 2015 to the news that the department was under investigation by the federal government.

Though I knew nothing about the circumstances that resulted in the probe, I had to work to resolve the situation. I spent a great part of my first year on the job meeting with the police, preparing materials for federal special agents, putting in place controls that would prevent future problems and justifying/explaining changes to HUD officials.

Programming was also at a complete stand still, and I had no predecessor to show me the ropes, so I figured things out on my own and successfully revived services.

Currently, all programming is operational, but the department is still recovering from the impact of that “lost” year, which also contributes to the pool of excess funds.

Ultimately, the department loses its many gains in the past proposed configurations.

The person currently leading the department in my absence openly confessed to no significant knowledge and only just now “getting her feet wet” on the department’s complexities at the 9/11 meeting that drew alarm in me for my reputation.

Every office and department within city hall refers residents in need of resources to Community Development. I steward the funds well, but sometimes run afoul of people who do not like when applications are not funded as they had hoped, which was the case with Downtown Framingham, Inc. this year.

Originally, the approach was to fund the organization as always, but all of the questions that emerged revealed that the nonprofit is overpaid for the CDBG services it delivers, resulting in the funding being scaled back a bit, with a final award that amounted to 81% of its request. CDBG is not a slush fund for struggling nonprofits, and the department must abide by regulations to fund only eligible services and entities. In the event that the city funds solely on the basis of cronyism, the municipality pays a price in future years with taxpayer recapture money to HUD.

Finally, in reading the position statement, there is this comment: “Ms. Jean and a prior coworker had been unable to get along to the point the City’s Director of Human Resources had to assign a mediator to sit down with both parties and work out their differences, much of which was driven by
Ms. Jean’s poor behavior.”

Though everything else in the document is also an unfair defense by someone willing to say anything to respond to my charge, this point is especially difficult to read, since this occurred with a subordinate who actively worked to sabotage the department.

By the time that she walked off the job during her two week notice period, she had deleted 1,354 files and falsified documents to state regulators.

HR intervened to right the supervisor/subordinate relationship in that case of constant disrespect.

Overall, there is not enough time to respond to every point, but my EEOC rebuttal to the position statement provides details against this and other
accusations.

In closing, Framingham should be for everyone, including competent and smart black women such as myself. The experiences that I encountered in my first year taught me that I could personally be held criminally liable if the department’s money is not well managed.

As a result, I have been extremely cautious in my management approach by returning to the line of credit unused funds and managing programs responsibly to the point of 100% clean audits.

The city’s allocated grant money was disbursed appropriately, without a penny of it is missing, and so it has not been mismanaged.

I followed the set procedures for disbursing the funds and was never swayed by lobbying of the politically-well connected.

I appreciate and recall the faith that the community showed in me during the Town Meeting-eraa and have taken that show of confidence to heart by being a responsible leader in carrying out my duties.

Please also note that the apartheid-like and hostile environment where an entire institution used its full strength of force without any external protection for me from its abuses literally made me sick: I developed irregular heartbeats, chest pain and constrictions, as well as panic attacks and am taking some time to recuperate.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Nathalie Jean

Community Development Coordinator

City of Framingham

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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