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Brooksville, Hernando housing authorities explore merger

BROOKSVILLE — In the proposed marriage of the Hernando County and Brooksville housing authorities, the couples' counseling has begun.

The respective boards met in joint session Wednesday to discuss a possible merger, with both sides agreeing to the concept. They also accepted that details ranging from staffing to funding need to be hammered out first.

Of particular concern to the Hernando County board were the troubling issues still plaguing the Brooksville authority, such as a pending lawsuit over electrical work done on housing units but not paid for, and continuing problems with maintenance, rent collection and record keeping.

The boards will meet again in mid June to continue their work, possibly joined by a representative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The merger talk follows last week's firing of Brooksville Housing Authority executive director Ronnie McLean for several instances of mismanagement. McLean had run the troubled authority for nearly a year, taking over after a previous scandal left the former director and program manager convicted on federal fraud charges.

While McLean maintained that he had made improvements, a recent HUD audit listed examples of mishandled inspection reports, poor record keeping, and staffing and budgetary problems.

As Hernando County Housing Authority board members heard a litany of remaining problems in Brooksville, county board member Paul Sullivan asked, "What did he (McLean) do?''

"In my mind, I think that the county needs one housing authority,'' said county board member Anna Liisa Covell. "But we can't fix (Brooksville) as a miracle worker without a lot of these things being discussed.''

She suggested that Brooksville could give the authority back to HUD and let it fix all the issues, but Brooksville authority board member Gary Schraut said that would send the wrong message. "Ninety five percent of these things are fixable,'' he said.

Schraut also agreed on the merger idea. "No one has shown me … why we need two housing authorities,'' he said. "I see a duplication of services.''

The proposal discussed would have county Housing Authority executive director Don Singer take over responsibility for Brooksville's authority. But neither Singer nor his board wanted an open-ended arrangement like the one in place last year when Singer was put over Brooksville in the interim without any authority to make decisions.

"If we're going to do it, let's jump in with both feet and do it right,'' he said.

Brooksville Mayor David Pugh expressed concern that whoever runs the city's authority on an interim basis would have only three weeks to work after the next joint meeting before the consultant who is now running the authority leaves. This could put the city in a bind to find a leader quickly if the merger talks fall through.

But he also said he knew the Brooksville authority problems developed over time. "It's not going to be resolved overnight,'' he said. "Everybody is moving in the right direction.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Brooksville, Hernando housing authorities explore merger 05/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 11:44am]
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