Akron Councilman Mike Williams is fighting his termination from Alpha Phi Alpha Homes Inc., a prominent Akron housing agency, for a long list of alleged transgressions, including partisan political activities while on the job.
Williams, an at-large councilman who ran for Akron mayor in 2011, recently sent a letter to members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, which founded the housing agency but is a separate entity, appealing to them for help. In the letter, Williams argues that his firing as deputy executive director wasn’t warranted and says Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic was behind it.
“What has been even more disappointing and disturbing has been the involvement of Mayor Don Plusquellic in the termination of my employment,” Williams wrote in the five-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Beacon Journal. “The independence of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, Inc., and by proxy the independence of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., has been compromised and my termination is a product of that violation.”
Williams, whose father, retired Summit County Common Pleas Judge Jim Williams, was among the founders of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, requested an appeal of his termination in the letter and said he will sue, if necessary. He also said his firing is in retaliation for him running for mayor and the possibility he will again next year.
Reached by phone this week, Williams said simply, “I have no comment.”
Plusquellic, however, had plenty to say about Williams’ claim that he was involved in getting him fired, calling it “absurd.”
“It is ridiculous to think that I have any kind of authority over the inner workings of an African-American fraternity or Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, Inc., an organization that Williams’ father helped found, so as to influence anyone into firing him,” he said in a written statement.
Plusquellic said the only involvement the city has with Alpha Phi Alpha Homes has been to partner with the agency “to improve housing opportunities for our citizens.”
Williams, who had worked for seven years at Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, which oversees numerous low- and moderate-income housing developments in Akron and other cities, was fired Nov. 12. Tom Fuller, the agency’s executive director, said in Williams’ termination letter that he was being let go for insubordination, derogatory statements about Alpha homes, falsification of payroll records, intimidation of Alpha Homes employees and managers and conducting partisan political activities during work hours.
Williams said in the letter he sent to his fraternity brothers with the Eta Tau Lamda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha that he denies all of the allegations in his termination letter and that he was fired for other reasons. He said Fuller visited his father, Jim Williams, last September and told him he planned to fire the younger Williams.
“My father asked Tom what I had done and Tom could not cite any specifics,” Williams wrote. “The timing of his action was suspicious and constituted an attempt to discredit me during a critical point in my re-election to City Council.”
Williams ended the election as the top vote-getter in the at-large council race in the primary and general election.
He said that his father told him “he could reason with Tom and resolve the situation in a positive way.” Williams said his father continued discussions with Fuller until Fuller gave the termination letter in mid-November.
Mike Williams said Fuller offered him an alternative position with Alpha Phi Alpha Foundation, a charitable arm of the housing agency and fraternity, at the same pay, but Williams was concerned that the foundation had only enough funding to support this position for six months to a year. He declined the offer.
Williams said he hasn’t been disciplined during his time with the agency and performed well in 2013. He pointed to steps he took to improve the financial outlook of Channelwood Village, an Alpha Phi Alpha homes development.
Williams said he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Dec. 12 about “the lack of an opportunity to an impartial appeals process and the outside interference by City Hall into the operations of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, Inc.” He said his attorney, Ed Gilbert, has pursued an internal resolution or mediation, which has not been successful.
“Absent the reversal of this action taken against me, I will have no choice but to seek legal redress,” Williams wrote. “I do not want to sue, but I cannot allow my name and credibility be destroyed ... My termination is also in retaliation for me having run for mayor against Don Plusquellic and is based on the fear that I will run again for mayor in 2015.”
Williams asked for a special meeting of the general body of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes and for the support of Alpha homes, its board and his fraternity brothers in restoring his name and employment.
Jim Williams said in a phone interview last week that he hasn’t been “that close to the discussions recently” about his son’s employment.
“It is my understanding they are working on a resolution,” said Williams, the namesake of an Alpha Phi Alpha Homes apartment building in Akron.
The leaders of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes say they are hoping to reach an agreement with Mike Williams.
“I expect there will be a resolution that will be something everyone will be happy with,” said Fuller, who has been with Alpha Phi Alpha Homes since 1976.
Sam DeShazior, who heads the Alpha Phi Alpha Homes board, agreed and said “these things take time.”
DeShazior, who is also an Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity member and is Akron’s deputy planning director, said the decision to fire Williams was made by Fuller and was upheld by the agency’s eight-member management team.
“There are other options on the table,” he said. “I don’t think they have been exercised ... I hope this can end with a better resolution than this.”
Asked why Williams was terminated, DeShazior said Williams is a private individual and has a right to privacy. He said he is just a board member who provides leadership and guidance.
“The executive director and employees didn’t feel like he was following the mission,” DeShazior said.
He described Alpha Phi Alpha Homes’ mission as providing “quality and safe housing for our citizens.”
DeShazior scoffed at the assertion that Plusquellic had anything to do with Williams’ termination.
“He’s not an Alpha,” he said of the mayor. “I don’t know of anybody who had a discussion with the mayor on this.”
DeShazior and Fuller are hoping the controversy surrounding Williams’ employment won’t detract from the long history that Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, founded in 1966, has providing affordable housing in Akron and other cities.
“We love to serve people,” said Fuller, who gave a tour Friday afternoon to a Beacon Journal reporter and photographer of Callis Tower, a building Alpha Phi Alpha Homes operates off Thornton Street in Akron.
The 277-unit senior apartment building, which was renovated in 2009, was bustling with activity, including several residents using computers in a small lab. The staff coordinates services and provides activities for the residents, including a garden planned for this spring.
“It’s a nice building,” said resident Juanita Hancock, as she typed away on a computer. “I like it here.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.