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Brooksville's housing agency adrift again

BROOKSVILLE — Tuesday's firing of Brooksville Housing Authority executive director Ronnie McLean has once again left the leaders of the troubled agency at a crossroads.

Should the board of directors seek someone to try again to repair the beleaguered agency, or should they renew their efforts to merge with the Hernando County Housing Authority?

Given all that has happened both historically and recently, Brooksville Housing Authority board member Gary Schraut said Wednesday that he believes it is time to give somebody else a shot at running the agency.

"It concerns me that we haven't always delivered what we promised, and that's to help people," Schraut said. "I need to know that we can have a housing authority that will benefit our residents."

Schraut was one of three members who voted Tuesday night to oust McLean.

The director has been under scrutiny for several months and was criticized in a recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report for his handling of inspection reports, record-keeping, staffing and budgetary matters.

McLean, who did not return calls seeking comments on his firing on Wednesday, defended himself before the board, saying that the reforms he had initiated since taking over as executive director in June 2007 were on the right track.

"Although it may be slow, it is moving in the right direction," McLean said.

Although he didn't believe that McLean's failings were necessarily his own fault, Schraut said, he may not have been the right man for the job in the first place.

"I want to believe he was trying," Schraut said. "He simply didn't have the background needed for an undertaking of that magnitude. It got ahead of him."

John Niesz, HUD's director of public housing based in Jacksonville, noted in a report that the Brooksville Housing Authority had missed several critical deadlines, was negligent in keeping tenant records up to date and that it appeared that the authority had hired employees who were not experienced in working under HUD policies.

Board member Brian Adair, who along with fellow board member Yvette Taylor voted Tuesday not to fire McLean, said that while he agreed that McLean failed at many of his duties, he was more concerned about how the authority's business would be conducted without a director.

"I wasn't sure we had an alternative that would work," he said. "I didn't want to see us in more trouble with HUD because we didn't have an able replacement."

Adair and the rest of the board agreed to have Brenda Williams, a consultant for Smart Inc. and a public housing specialist who was brought in to help improve the authority, continue as interim director until her contract runs out next month.

Bill Kalbas, a spokesman for the HUD Tampa field office, said that because of its status as a "troubled" agency, the Brooksville authority would be required to submit its selection of a new executive director to HUD for approval.

Brooksville City Council member Lara Bradburn has long supported the idea of the merger between the city's housing authority and its countywide counterpart.

"I've never felt we needed two agencies do practically the same thing in an area where one would do," Bradburn said Wednesday. "Eliminating the city's housing authority would get rid of a lot of headaches."

However, Hernando County Housing Authority board member Anna Liisa Covell said that the recent HUD reprimand sends up a number of red flags that the Brooksville agency "needs to clean up its act" before any such merger.

Though she expects the matter will be brought up at her agency's May 28 board meeting, she is uncertain as to whether she would support the merger.

"With our present staffing level, we're limited in what we can do," Covell said. "To take it on would be quite a bit of additional work."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Brooksville's housing agency adrift again 05/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 8:04pm]
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