Former CMH director files suit

St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, St. Joseph County itself, and the agency that oversees mental-health and drug-abuse services in the county are among the defendants named in a lawsuit filed last week.

The five-member county board as well as Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services of St. Joseph County Board were named in the suit filed by former CMH executive director Liz O’Dell.

Dismissed Aug. 29, O’Dell has retained the legal services of Beck & Chapman of Kalamazoo.

In addition, O’Dell’s litigation includes a collection of people being sued individually.

The matter will initially be delegated to Circuit Court Judge Paul Stutesman, though Stutesman has the option to recuse himself.

O’Dell is claiming breach of contract, that her whistleblower-protection rights were violated, wrongful interference with her employment contract, and unjust interference with her business relationship or expectancy with CMH.

The CMH board in April this year placed O’Dell on paid administrative leave until a full audit of the agency’s finances was conducted. The result of the audit has never been made public, though none of the four grounds on which O’Dell was dismissed in August included accusations of financial improprieties.

In January 2016, she was issued a two-year contract extension. The 68-year-old O’Dell has said she made it clear to CMH board members that she would be retiring when her contract expires Jan. 31, 2018.

A Sturgis resident, O’Dell’s annual salary was $119,000. She joined CMH in 2000 and became its executive director in 2006.

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