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Head of Nonprofit Housing Agency Fired After Alleged Ethnic Remark

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Times Staff Writer

The executive director of the Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley has been fired after witnesses told the council’s board of directors that she called an ex-employee a “money-hungry Jew.”

Betty J. Bankhead was dismissed Monday night by a 10-4 vote of the board of the private, nonprofit agency, which receives government funds to investigate complaints of housing discrimination.

The board’s action came after two people said they overheard Bankhead make the comment June 20 in response to a letter from Susan Bilow, a former housing coordinator. In the letter, Bilow stated that she was seeking compensation for vacation time she had accrued.

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Bankhead, who was hired March 1, denied Tuesday that she made the comment. She said she is considering legal action against the board because she believes she is the victim of a “power play” between its warring factions.

“I didn’t even know she was Jewish,” Bankhead said of Bilow. “When the mail came, all I said was, ‘My God, Susan is so money-hungry. She’s after every penny she can get from the council.’ ”

Bankhead said Bilow, who worked part time, resigned her job after she was asked to work full time. Bilow could not be reached for comment.

James W. Smith, a board member who voted against Bankhead’s ouster, said he was outraged at the action. He said some board members have been trying to get rid of Bankhead since she was hired over their favorite candidate for the job.

“I believe there were some surreptitious machinations that led up to the vote,” Smith said. “The vote was precipitated by hearsay, and it was without due process.”

But Clarita Karlin, a prosecutor for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office who also serves on the board, said she became convinced of Bankhead’s guilt after the council official was questioned by the board Monday.

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“There’s no way I would have made this decision if I was not convinced of the truth of the accusations,” Karlin said. “I’m a prosecutor, and I watch people’s reactions to spontaneous questions all the time. I know the two witnesses involved were telling the truth from watching their faces.”

Smith said an administrative assistant and a housing counselor now on leave from the agency both told the board they overheard Bankhead make the comment about Bilow.

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