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Gov. Scott revamps board of troubled Pasco Housing Authority

Gov. Rick Scott has overhauled the governing board for the embattled Pasco County Housing Authority.

Scott on Friday appointed four new members to the board, replacing three members and filling one vacancy. A fifth seat must go to a tenant who lives in one of the agency's properties.

The move follows weeks of turmoil at the agency, which oversees a $15.1 million budget. A whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a former finance director alleged widespread mismanagement, and former executive director Karen Turner resigned three weeks ago.

After the lawsuit surfaced in the media, officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began what they called a comprehensive audit of the Housing Authority.

John Finnerty, president of Habitat for Humanity of east and central Pasco, is one of the new members.

"I don't know a whole lot about this (housing authority) other than what I've read in the newspapers, which is not good," he said. "We're just going to go in there and if there's problems, straighten them out."

Other appointees include Ed Blommel, a former Tampa Electric Co. executive who also works with Habitat; David Lambert, a manager at Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative; and Emile Laurino, executive director of the Center for Independence.

Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, had pushed for the overhaul, arguing the panel needed "new blood." He had recommended the people Scott selected.

"All four of those have experience in management, running either for-profit or nonprofit companies," Legg said.

He noted that three of the new members are deeply involved with east Pasco housing issues. Most of the housing agency's properties are located in Dade City and Lacoochee.

The whistle-blower lawsuit included several charges of mismanagement and accused Turner of having sex with a subordinate at the agency's Dade City headquarters. HUD officials say they plan to finish their review in a few weeks. Interim director Linda Wright took over after Turner resigned, and the new board will help lead the search for a permanent replacement.

The outgoing board members are chairwoman Regina Mirabella, Len Trubia and Joan Spitrey. At previous meetings, they backed Turner and said none of the claims in the lawsuit were found to be true.

"I think it's really ridiculous. I think it's about money, power and politics," Trubia, the longest-serving board member, said at a meeting earlier this month. "It has nothing to do with the job (Turner) is doing."

But the outgoing members seemed resigned to the change. At a meeting earlier this month, Mirabella said, "We are waiting for our replacements like the good soldiers we are. ... We'll be here to support the incoming board."

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is preparing legislation that would allow county commissioners to appoint the agency's board, instead of the governor. He will present his idea next week at the meeting of Pasco's legislative delegation.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Gov. Scott revamps board of troubled Pasco Housing Authority 09/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2011 8:45pm]
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