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Utah's Valor House veterans angered by housing manager's firing

Published February 25, 2014 8:25 pm

Housing Authority • Ex-manager cared for them, vets say; termination called necessary.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Veterans dismayed over the firing of the manager of Valor House — a new $4.5 million transitional housing facility for homeless vets — want the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City to reverse its decision.

"She cared about us," said Peter Harkins, an Army medic during the Vietnam War era who has lived at Valor House since last spring. "She always instilled hope in people."

Manager Jeanette Hurst and assistant manager Adam Hancock were fired at the end of January, triggering a rising protest from veterans loyal to Hurst, who had worked at the agency for more than a decade.

"We'd like to see her reinstated, but the main thing is not to have her reputation damaged," Harkins said.

Valor House is located on the Veterans Affairs campus, where vets have therapy and medical appointments, but it is owned and run by the city's housing authority. The new Valor House opened last spring, replacing an earlier one that was nearby.

Authority Executive Director Terry Feveryear made the decision after consulting with other employees and with attorneys, said Erik Strindberg, an attorney whose firm represents the housing authority in employment matters.

"The decision to terminate Jeanette and Adam was done carefully, after considering everything that had gone on, and it was not a decision that was made lightly," Strindberg said Tuesday. "There was a feeling because of certain actions they [the former managers] had taken that termination was appropriate and necessary," he said.

He could not discuss details because the former employees deserve privacy, he said. Hurst and Hancock have not appealed, he said.

The authority board, which discussed the firing during a closed meeting on Monday, "is supportive of her [Feveryear's] decisions," Strindberg said.

One board member, however, is not.

Michael Clara said he will ask fellow board members to review the firing in light of what he's learned in two meetings with veterans at Valor House this month.

More than a dozen veterans wrote letters asking the board to intervene and protested Hurst's and Hancock's firings.

At a meeting on Thursday, Feveryear said Hurst was fired because of incompetence, several veterans said.

"She said that she loved Jeanette, too, but … the whole program was put in jeopardy by Jeanette's incompetence in how she was filling out paperwork," said David Eldridge, a Vietnam era Navy veteran who lives at Valor House.

Clara, who also was at Thursday's meeting, said Feveryear alleged that a $350,000 Federal Home Loan Bank grant was in jeopardy because of Hurst.

But when he called the bank in Seattle on Friday, he was told the grant was never at risk. A news release describing $900,000 in grants to various Utah agencies — including the $350,000 for the housing authority — was released that day.

"I believe … that Terry is being less than honest about this termination deal," Clara said Monday.

Feveryear said Wednesday that she was not lying. "All I know is they are auditing to see if we did everything right," she said. "If you don't follow the requirements of the grant, it is put in jeopardy. We're in the process of fixing what needed to be fixed."

Eldridge said the explanation Feveryear gave veterans for Hurst's firing didn't ring true.

"She [Hurst] has such a reputation as a caring, truthful, honest person," he said. "We couldn't believe she would have done anything to warrant her getting fired like that. We have a lot of questions."

Losing Hurst and Hancock, said veteran Karla (Kay) Fallon, is hard on veterans, who are striving for stability and trust.

Fallon was in the Air Force in the late 1970s, retiring as a sergeant. She became homeless after a divorce eight years ago.

"I've heard a lot of vets say how this is interfering with their treatment," she said.

Roger Thomas Malone, who was a paratrooper in the early 1970s but didn't serve in Vietnam, said Hurst was important to veterans' healing.

"The atmosphere is always the same wherever Jeanette is — peace, true love and compassion."

Jill Atwood, spokeswoman for the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said hospital officials are aware of the veterans' unhappiness about the firings.

"We tried to mitigate as best as possible, but in the end, it's not our decision," she said. "We can't dictate their [housing authority's] personnel matters."

The housing authority leases the land from the V.A. for a nominal fee but owns and manages Valor House.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton