The Mobile Housing Board (MHB) of Commissioners on Monday morning fired the agency’s executive director after less than a year on the job.
Commissioners approved, by a 3-0 vote, a resolution to relieve Akinola Popoola of his duties during his working test period with the Mobile County Personnel Board. Since Popoola’s test period wasn’t scheduled to end until December, the board was allowed to release him for any reason and without a right to a hearing.
Popoola was fired following a series of financial blunders the board said happened under his watch, including $478,000 mistakenly handed over to hackers in an email phishing scam targeting former CFO Lori Shackelford.
MHB Vice Chairman Reid Cummings said while it may not have been Popoola’s direct responsibility to follow up on all wire transfers, he should have had a “hand on the wheel” when it comes to an expenditure of nearly $500,000. Popoola’s apparent refusal to discipline Shackelford also rankled commissioners, acting board attorney Larry Wettermark said.
Hackers apparently targeted the MHB in early spring, intercepting emails between Shackelford and a contractor tasked with the demolition of Roger Williams Homes, sources said. The hackers then used the information to send Shackelford an email requesting the payment. Sources confirmed the amount was mistakenly paid to the hackers.
Shackelford, a longtime employee of the board, took over as interim executive director in early 2017 when former Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn resigned. She stayed in the position until Popoola was hired to replace Vaughn late last year.
Although sources have told Lagniappe the FBI is was working the case, it’s unclear if an investigation is ongoing. A spokesman for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development declined to comment on the issue.
The board also held Popoola responsible for about $800,000 in contract overages involving former Mobile Development Enterprises Director of Capital Funds Cole Appleman, MHB Vice Chairman Reid Cummings said.
Cummings said a resolution “within the last year” contained a series of work orders for maintenance where the overages occurred.
“There was a failure to pay close attention to some of the details of how that added up,” Cummings said. Appleman is no longer with the housing authority, he added.
Wettermark said Popoola was also being cited for insubordination, failure to perform duties, failure to follow instructions, failure to address an infestation in one of the housing developments and not using sick time when absent from work.
Cummings said the board could not go into specifics on the sick time issue, calling it “internal.”
Popoola is currently embroiled in a lawsuit involving sick leave with his former employer, the Opelika Housing Authority. Popoola claims in the suit he is owed more than $100,000 worth of unused sick time. An attorney for that housing authority has stated in a letter to Popoola that the former executive director is not owed the sick leave because he quit.
MHB Chairwoman Kimberly Pettway will become the authority’s contact and signatory while the board searches for new leadership. Pettway and Commissioner Joyce Freeman abstained from both of the board’s votes.
The move Monday leaves MHB without three of its top officials, but Cummings said the board would “go in the direction” of new leadership, but added the “first step is to get a handle on operations.”
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