Whistleblower White says senior complex harassing her
By Pat Maurer
White, 63, who has lived at the senior residence for several years, believes she is being unfairly harassed because of residents’ complaints she compiled and presented to the management of the facility last January.
Residents at the senior living facility had been complaining for some time about hazards such as drywall dust coming from some vents, a door nearly impossible to use by some residents, an odor described as a “sewer smell” coming from some drains, ice on the carport roof and in the drive during winter months, an intercom that didn’t work, and several other concerns.
The building is owned by PS Equities and MidMichigan Community Action Agency. The facility is managed by KMG –Prestige Management, based in Lansing.
White organized a meeting of the tenants and compiled a list of complaints which she presented to the management of the facility. Although the management did respond to the list of complaints, an article in the Northwest Liberty News by White’s son said, “These actions by my mother put a target on her back as a whistleblower.”
The letter addressed to White from Sherry Weise, the Regional Property Manager Agent for ClareCastle LDHA LP, concerning the compiled list of residents’ complaints said, “We appreciate residents bringing concerns, issues, and suggestions to us in order to provide the best housing services available.”
Weise addressed each of the concerns listed, saying ice on the carports is not a construction flaw and they would look into gutters; that they do their best to insure the drive is cleared and salted; that they believed drain covers installed in February had eliminated the odor coming into apartments through the drains, and asked residents who are still experiencing a problem to contact them; that maintenance has improved the dust issue; and that an automatic door opening system for the back door would cost more than $3,700 and the management is not in a position yet to address that problem.
The letter from Weise also said a request for a rooftop satellite dish is being researched, the request to convert the computer room to an exercise room is an “insurance liability” problem, they appreciate the request for a medication lock box; and that the budget does not have funding for upgrades at this time.
The letter to White also charged that White had called Site Manager “a liar” and said, “Name calling will not be tolerated by anyone and will be considered abuse of management…a violation according to the lease.”
Sondra said she did say that in a meeting with the site manager, when talking about concerns that residents had expressed, when the Site Manager Penny Pickle had denied hearing about them.
In March, after White said she made a humorous comment about her gun during a community event, a city police officer came knocking on White’s door with a report to them in which the site manager had said several residents had filed complaints. The complaint said that after losing a card game White had said that she was going to “get a gun,” and that she had said she would “put a gun to her head.” The report also said, “It is not believed that Sondra is suicidal or threatening. Sondra makes the residents uncomfortable and [they] state that they feel uncomfortable around her.” The police report also said the manager would be “contacting her company’s legal department to begin eviction.”
The complaint was filed by Site Manager Penny Pickle.
Clare Chief Brian Gregory said Lt. Dave Saad handled the complaint and after meeting with White and examining the gun which was stored deep in a closet and unloaded, he determined that it was registered to her legally and that the complaint was “closed.”
“There was nothing illegal,” Gregory said, “It was an unfounded complaint.”
“I would never, ever hurt anyone,” White said. “I’ve never been arrested or charged with anything. These accusations are not true and the comment I made was made as a joke. Everyone there laughed about it.” She said the Police Chief advised that she remove the gun from her apartment to prevent any further problems. “I did that the very next day, “ she said. “And I notified the site manager in writing April 4 that the gun was gone.”
March 27, White was served with a Notice of Lease Violation from Tickle which said, “Senior[s] are expressing concern/fear of Sandra White having a gun on the premises. She has on more than one occasion referred to getting her gun out to take care of one of them. It is hindering the quiet enjoyment of the seniors at ClareCastle.”
The March notice gave her one day to “cure this/these violations.” If not corrected the notice said, she would be served with a 30 day notice to “Quit for Termination of Policy.”
April 16, in a notice, White was given a seven-day notice to “quit for termination of tenancy,” based on the March 22 police report. It said, “there have been complaints from other residents alleging that you have admitted to having a firearm and believe you have made threatening statements to them.” It continued, “…please make arrangements to move out within the next seven days or management will proceed with filing a complaint seeking immediate possession of the premises with the District Court. Management has elected to terminate your tenancy as a result of the serious nature of the complaints regarding threats to others and references regarding firearms…”
A local attorney, hired by White, responded to that notice with a demand to withdraw the notice, saying, “It is my understanding that no person was physically harmed or threatened with physical harm by Ms. White.”
On June 5, in a letter to White from Weise on the ClareCastle Senior Apartments letterhead, allegations were that White had “broadcast” the fact that she had a gun and had come into a resident’s apartment saying they didn’t look well and ‘offered to get my gun and put her out of her misery’.”
After adding that “Talk of this nature can be alarming, even if intended to be made in jest,” the letter said, “there has never been an issue with you regarding your right or any other resident’s right to possess a firearm. It was your alleged comments and gestures reported by others regarding the gun which created an environment of fear for several for which we cannot and will not ignore.”
It continued, “At this time we have elected to allow you to continue your residency on a month to month basis with the understanding that there be no further inappropriate references or gestures to others regarding your possession of a gun or reference to causing harm to others in any way. If this happens again, we will proceed to terminate your tenancy.”
White denies that she has ever threatened any of the complex residents, saying two of the residents have sided with Site Manager Pickle against her and made up the allegations. “I told her, if I was such a threat and threatened people, why didn’t I go to jail?”
In a Thursday phone interview, Weise said, “I can’t discuss personal matters about the tenants, but I will contact her [White] about her concerns.”
Several residents have backed up White’s statement, both in letters and in interviews, while requesting that their names not be used in this article for fear of reprisal by the management. “These people are elderly, on fixed incomes and many wouldn’t have anywhere to go if they were evicted,” White said.
One tenant said, “This has been a terrible time for Sondra, all these accusations and lies. Several people have been called in and questioned. Those things reported are totally untrue. She is a good fun-loving person who cooks breakfast for us, organizes pizza parties and bingo, all at her own expense. It is so uncomfortable here now.” She also outlined some of the problems tenants have had in having needed repairs made.
Weise said, “I don’t understand why all this is coming up now – six months later.” She said, “To my knowledge we haven’t had any other complaints. We encourage residents to bring us their concerns. It’s the only way we can do anything about problems.
We find that most residents are very happy there. If people weren’t happy, we wouldn’t be full. We have never evicted anyone.”
Another resident reported that requests for repairs go unanswered. “I pour water down the laundry room floor drain every week to keep the sewer smell down. The intercom wasn’t working for a long time. Visitors and delivery people couldn’t get in without someone going downstairs to let them in and the back door is unusable for anyone in a walker or wheelchair without the help of another person. The resident added that the odor from the drains is not as prominent now that a drain damper has been installed.” He said the ice in the parking area had caused one tenant in a wheelchair to be “stuck” against a vehicle for two hours once last winter, until someone came to help.
Another resident noted that “the odor from the sewer still comes up through my shower. I’ve told management, but nothing has been done about it.” That resident said that White has always advocated for and been a friend to the residents. “When the manager said a broken clock in the kitchen couldn’t be replaced because there wasn’t money for it, Sondra went to a local store and got one donated for us. That made the manager mad, she was really upset about it. When the snow falling off the carport freezes in the parking lot, we have been told to just stay in until it clears up.”
Weiss said the building owner had a special “smoke” test done concerning the reports of odors. She said that the front load washers in the laundry area can develop a smell around the door. “I’m not saying that is what is causing the problem,” she said, “but the manufacture’s recommendation is for a certain type of detergent. There can be a smell if the machines are not operated as recommended by the manufacturer.”
Another resident that had requested a ceiling fan when moving in was told it would be no problem. He said after he moved in and purchased the fan, when a member of his family who is a certified Master Electrician offered to install it, he was told it would have to be put in by building maintenance people and would cost him $150. “I can’t afford it,” he said. He also noted problems with his refrigerator door because of an unlevel floor. “I still have cardboard under it,” he said. He also said because the wiring is not heavy enough, breakers in the service panel are tripped when appliances are used. He also cited carpet that is unraveling and some other problems. “I submit my requests in writing,” he said. “and I keep copies.”
Another tenant at the facility said, “Sondra is fine. There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s friendly, and loves to do things for people. She is always cooking and baking for us, and she isn’t afraid to ask for donations to make our lives better. There are things going around about her, but I don’t believe them. I think it is absolutely ridiculous. We have some people around here who like to make things up. I have never been afraid of her. I knew she had a gun but she has never threatened anybody.” That tenant said, “This is a beautiful complex, but it is not state-of-the-art, like they advertise.” She cited problems with the carpeting and cupboards that won’t close properly and said the thermostat has to be set at 80 degrees to keep the temperature at 72 degrees. She also said because of the intercom not working, she has had to drop her keys from her balcony to let visitors in. “Sondra is our spokesperson,” she said.
Several of the residents had complaints about a two-year old living there. “This is supposed to be only for those age 55 and older,” one said. Weiss responded saying, “That’s not true. The facility is only for ages 55 and older or disabled tenants. We do allow family and youngsters to visit there.”
Weise also said the Site Manager Penny has a very good reputation. “She is a very kind person,” she said.
One person, a resident since the facility opened, said, “I know Sondra and I’m not afraid of her. I knew she had a gun, but she never threatened anyone. She is a very nice, giving person who does a lot to make it nicer here for the residents. I can’t believe some of the accusations against her. I don’t think it is right. There are a couple of people here who are real troublemakers. I just thank God I’m not on their list.”
White’s lease, which was up in July, has not been renewed, she said. “When I went in to renew it, I was told I couldn’t.”
In a phone interview Thursday morning, Weise said White does have a lease, a “month to month” lease. “MISHDA requires that every tenant have a lease,” she said. “When a tenant moves in there is a minimum one-year lease. After that, there are different options available based on tenant’s needs.”
White is still living, month to month, at the ClareCastle.