VOL. 130 | NO. 170 | Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Lipscomb Resigns As HCD Director Following More Allegations
By Bill Dries
Less than 24 hours after word of his suspension following an allegation of sexual misconduct, city of Memphis Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb resigned the post Monday, Aug. 31.
He is expected to follow Tuesday, Sept. 1, with his resignation as director of the Memphis Housing Authority, said city chief administrative officer Jack Sammons.
"It's been very unnerving that we've received numerous calls from other alleged victims," Sammons said of the new allegations made to Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
Wharton's written statement Monday evening said the new allegations are "similar accounts of inappropriate sexual advances and contact with Mr. Lipscomb."
Wharton, who accepted Lipscomb's resignation Monday evening, directed further complaints to the police CrimeStoppers tip line.
"Because of the nature and number of calls, it is best to call the Crime Stoppers hot line ... rather than Director Armstrong or me. Be assured that all will be investigtated immediately and thoroughly."
The new reports followed a Monday morning press conference in which Wharton confirmed that allegations of sexual misconduct were made in a Seattle criminal complaint against city Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb.
A 26-year-old man made the complaint, alleging the misconduct happened a decade ago when he was 16.
Wharton also said the investigation includes allegations that Lipscomb made payments to the man; a city audit of Lipscomb’s division is underway.
Meanwhile, Lipscomb denied any wrongdoing but in a Fox 13 interview acknowledged that he had paid the man to prevent him from going public with "wild accusations."
Wharton referred to the investigation as “wide open” during the Monday morning press conference. He relieved Lipscomb of duty Sunday, Aug. 30, following the criminal complaint in Seattle.
In a written statement Sunday evening, Wharton called the allegations “extremely disturbing.” He and Memphis Police Department director Toney Armstrong talked Friday, Aug. 28, with Lipscomb’s accuser in the Seattle case.
From there, Armstrong and other police investigators traveled to Seattle this weekend to speak with the accuser in person.
Wharton referred the police investigation results to the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office. In the written statement, Wharton also said state and federal agencies could become involved in the probe.
Wharton’s and Armstrong’s personal involvement in the investigation reflects Lipscomb’s central role in the administration.
Lipscomb has been heavily involved in every major project of Wharton’s five years in office as well as most of those of the previous 17-year administration of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.
Those projects range from the demolition of all of the city’s large public housing projects, with the exception of Foote Homes, to the adaptive reuse of The Pyramid to plans for an amateur sports tournament complex at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.
How the allegations and Lipscomb's resignation will affect the future of Foote Homes is unknown. The city of Memphis, led by Lipscomb, currently is a finalist for a federal grant worth up to $30 million that would fund the demolition of the city’s last large public housing development.
It is one of nine cities competing for the Choice Neighborhoods grant, the successor program to Hope VI. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to make a decision in September. Wharton’s administration also applied for, but did not win, the grant last year.
In Monday’s press conference, Wharton said the projects Lipscomb was leading would continue “without missing a beat.”
Lipscomb has served twice as “chief financial officer” for the city as well as head of the Memphis Housing Authority. The MHA director’s position was combined with director of the Housing and Community Development division during Lipscomb’s tenure.
Lipscomb’s ability to secure federal funding as well as shift that funding to the city’s priorities has given him a much broader role in city planning than his predecessors in the Housing and Community Development division. Lipscomb hasn’t hesitated to push for a specific course of action for that funding.
His influence, as well as his outspoken advocacy for specific plans in spite of his role as an unelected city employee, has made him a high profile and sometimes-controversial presence.
As the Memphis Housing Authority director, Lipscomb was sued in 2005 on a federal job discrimination claim ultimately dismissed by U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen.
Howard Terry claimed his position as safety and security director of the housing authority was undermined and he was retaliated against by Lipscomb.
Terry linked the conduct to alleged sexual advances made by Lipscomb toward him in 2002.
Breen ruled that Terry “provided no basis from which the court can infer that the acts complained of constituted discrimination because of sex.” The claim of a hostile work environment also was dismissed.
In addition to his duties with the city and MHA, Lipscomb serves as chairman of LeMoyne-Owen College’s board of trustees.