TAMPA — About five months into the job, Hillsborough County affordable housing officer Howie Carroll sought a federal assessment of the way his office administered grant money.
Ironically, that assessment led to the county losing $2-million in federal affordable housing grant money, leaving Carroll, and possibly County Administrator Pat Bean, in hot water.
The so-called wellness review completed in June showed Hillsborough had not won final federal approval of the way it intended to spend the money. By the time Carroll's office tried to rectify the matter, a critical deadline passed.
That was the account given by Karen Jackson Sims, field office director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to county commissioners Thursday.
The HUD official credited Carroll and the county for seeking the review, and said the office is trying to better understand federal rules. She described the county's affordable housing office as facing challenges on that front for years.
"We're saying they did not understand some of the technicalities of that particular program," she said. "They're implementing the changes we're recommending."
The lost $2-million has propelled heated questions in recent weeks from county commissioners, angered by the loss during particularly tough economic times. Thursday's HUD presentation seemed to calm some of their anger.
"I think our frustration has overflowed," said Commissioner Rose Ferlita.
Earlier this week, Bean took over direct oversight of the office to get a better handle on what was going wrong in the face of commission questions.
Still, some commissioners took messages from the presentation that continue to give them pause. Commissioner Kevin White said it showed there have been problems with the office that have been in place for years.
Sims acknowledged after the meeting that the $2-million loss was the largest for any local government she has experienced in her 12-county West Central Florida jurisdiction.
Some former employees of the office, meanwhile, who have been raising concerns to commissioners, said they sought a wellness review as far back as three years ago, but were thwarted by the department's former leadership.
"He's taking all the credit for what prior staff did," said Maggie Tagliarini said of Carroll. She was a supervisor in the office before she left last year.
Sims said Hillsborough County may still be able to hold on to an additional $800,000 it is in danger of losing. In that case, the money was earmarked for an apartment complex rehab project that failed to provide enough affordable housing units in exchange for grant money. The money may be able to get redirected.