Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

HUD report is critical of Pasco County Housing Authority

The long-awaited report by federal officials on the Pasco County Housing Authority was released Thursday, pointing to problems with financial oversight, possible overtime excesses and a high public housing vacancy rate.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted a comprehensive review of the agency in October. Since that time, many of the issues highlighted in the report have surfaced. The housing authority has already corrected 90 percent of the problems, said David Lambert, chairman of the housing authority's board of directors.

"It's nothing that we haven't really taken care of," he said. "Many of the things are done."

Problems surfaced at the agency last fall after media coverage of a whistle-blower lawsuit by a former employee. Besides allegations of mismanagement, the suit accused former executive director Karen Turner of creating a hostile work environment by having sex during work hours with another employee, who has since left the authority.

Though a judge recently ruled in favor of the housing authority, the attention prompted a major overhaul of the agency. Turner was forced to resign in September, and Gov. Rick Scott later replaced all of the authority's board members.

Major findings in the report include one case of excessive overtime, a high rate of unused units and lax controls over finances.

"This assessment revealed serious deficiencies that must be corrected," the report reads. The housing authority is officially designated as "troubled" because its 2010 audit is overdue. Lambert said he expects the audit will be finished by April.

The overtime case is being investigated separately by HUD's inspector general. The report says that between January 2006 and September 2011, one maintenance worker "routinely worked a significant number of overtime hours," logging 31 pay periods with more than 40 hours of overtime. In many cases the work was not supported by work orders.

The report does not name the employee, though an earlier Times analysis revealed a similar pattern for maintenance staffer Bill Dillon. Payroll records obtained by the Times from late 2007 through early 2008 showed Dillon averaged 72-hour weeks during that period. The whistle-blower suit claims Dillon was Turner's "paramour," though Dillon denies the charge.

Lambert said he couldn't discuss the case because of the inspector general inquiry. All overtime has ended, except for employees rehabbing units so new tenants can move in.

The HUD report criticized the housing authority for issuing credit cards to all maintenance staffers. Those cards were used at home improvement stores, where purchases "appear excessive." Lambert said the housing authority has since restricted cards to supervisors. All purchases must be approved in advance, and interim executive director Linda Wright checks receipts afterward.

The agency also has a high vacancy rate, which reduces income to the housing authority. The report notes that "is not the result of lack of demand," with nearly 1,000 families on a waiting list. Lambert said when he arrived, the agency had 78 vacant units, and that figure is down to 52. "We're hoping in the next three to four months that we don't have more than 10," he said.

HUD officials said hiring a permanent executive director "is key to the recovery of the" housing authority. Board members have narrowed a list of 20 applicants to five, though the agency received follow-up calls from only two applicants. Lambert said the relatively low salary of $82,000 likely turned those people away. The board will schedule interviews with the remaining applicants next month.

"I want somebody that's highly ethical, and is going to be a good steward of public dollars," he said. "For me, they need to be a change agent, too."

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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