The wife and husband team who resigned from the Bayou La Batre Housing Authority (BLBHA) last year after a new board member uncovered their proposed multimillion-dollar retirement package are claiming their employment contracts are valid, and they are entitled to their entire combined lump sum payout of $4,182,771.
In December, the BLBHA sued former Executive Director Virginia Huddleston, former Maintenance Supervisor Darryl Wilson, and five former members of the board, alleging a conspiracy to liquidate the authority’s assets to fund Huddleston’s and Wilson’s retirements.
Huddleston was hired in May 2013 and Wilson was hired three months later.
The employment contracts, initially drawn up in 2019 but amended last year to include the retirement packages, cited the pair’s “outstanding achievements and contributions” to the 99-home Safe Harbor subdivision, which was initially constructed with more than $18 million in federal and state grants after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Huddleston has gone above and beyond all requirements and expectations in the performance of her duties” and “has been subjected to and endured malicious, extraordinary, extreme obstacles and long-term mistreatment and maltreatment beyond the traditional norms of someone in her position,” the amendment read.
Her lump-sum payment amounted to $2,521,259 while Wilson was awarded $1,661,412.
It was later revealed the board, upon Huddleston’s recommendation, planned to auction Safe Harbor to fund the retirements. Everyone resigned before the sale took place, and the new board voided the contracts.
The lawsuit accuses Huddleston, Wilson and the former board of breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy, conversion, negligence, wantonness and unjust enrichment, among other things. The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at the couple’s Semmes home in October, but criminal charges have never been filed. Huddleston and Wilson filed a motion to dismiss in February, arguing the “compensation/benefits provided to defendants Huddleston and Wilson were authorized by defendant Marcia Stork, as chairperson of the board, pursuant to the contractual agreements.”
Further, the complaint alleges no misconduct by Huddleston or Wilson in drafting or approving their employment contracts and instead “the plaintiff appears to erroneously believe the acceptance of the compensation/benefits … is sufficient to sustain the claims,” the motion reads. “It is not.”
In countersuits filed May 1, the couple claimed it was the housing authority that breached the contract.
“BLBHA has failed/refused to pay Mrs. Huddleston the sums owed her for retirement benefits pursuant to the employment contract and addendum,” the countersuit reads, arguing, “Mrs. Huddleston fully performed her obligations under the employment contract and addendum.” Both parties are also seeking to implement indemnity agreements included in the contracts, holding them harmless against “any and all claims arising from the performance of employment-related duties authorized by BLBHA in the conduct of its business or from any activity, work or other things done.” Both complaints are written by attorney Jerry Blevins in Montgomery.
Meanwhile, the authority reported it settled a lawsuit filed by law firm Burr & Forman in January, which sought $21,000 for legal services retained when the board attempted to sell Safe Harbor. Managing Partner Doug Anderson said he did not work on the employment contracts but simply on the proposed sale and land transfer.
Huddleston’s counterclaim notes the contracts were originally drafted by attorney Brent Day without the retirement packages, which were added months later.
Safe Harbor was originally intended as low-income housing for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. But the sale of the property resulted in a federal corruption conviction for former Mayor Stan Wright and within months of opening its first homes to residents, complaints of poor construction and mismanagement were aired to the Bayou La Batre City Council.
Rent in the community averaged $350 when it was built, but after Huddleston was hired it was raised to $500 or more, and some residents said few improvements were made to houses or the property. At one point, the housing authority attempted to work with the Bayou La Batre City Council to develop more empty lots on the property, but eventually, the city sold the property to the authority.
Records indicate BLBHA was initially interested in developing the vacant lots in Safe Harbor to fund investments in other properties around the city, but by December of last year, the board voted to sell the property. Although the sale was approved, essentially funding Huddleston’s and Wilson’s retirement accounts, zoning issues later caused the buyer to back out.
The former board members named in the lawsuit include Marcia Stork, Johnny Joiner, Tony Collier, Annette Thornton and Michael Goodin. All except Collier appear to have answered the complaint, denying the allegations.
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