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New director tapped for embattled Pasco Housing Authority

DADE CITY — Seeking to stabilize an agency beset by poor management, officials on Tuesday selected a well-regarded former county housing official to return home and lead the Pasco County Housing Authority.

Dianne Morris, 61, is currently the housing and development director for Danville, Va. But before moving north, she spent 10 years as the first director of Pasco's Community Development department.

"Dianne is familiar with Pasco County, she's familiar with working with the political leaders of Pasco County," said David Lambert, chairman of the board that oversees the housing authority. "She's somebody we felt that we could trust to turn this organization around."

Morris applied for the position in September, shortly after former director Karen Turner resigned. Besides allegations of mismanagement, a whistle-blower lawsuit by a former employee accused Turner of creating a hostile work environment by having sex during work hours with another employee who has since left the agency.

Since then, Gov. Rick Scott replaced the entire governing board for the $15.1 million agency. Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a critical report of the housing authority.

"There's a lot of hard work that needs to be done," Morris said. "My first goal is to address the management issues and make sure I tour each of the sites to hear about the problems going on at each of the sites."

In her current position, Morris manages several federal housing programs in Danville, on the Virginia-North Carolina border. Back in 1992, she helped create a similar department for Pasco, starting from scratch with a skeleton crew.

"Knowing Pasco County is half the battle," said George Romagnoli, who took over Morris' job as community development director in 2002. "Knowing HUD stuff is the other half. She's a really good fit."

Romagnoli praised Morris' management style, saying she is willing to work closely with staffers.

"She would never say, 'No, I'm the manager and I'm not going to do that,' " he said. "She jumped in with both feet and really helped out."

He said Morris would help foster a close connection on low-income housing issues between the housing authority and the county. "She knows who to talk to in order to get things done," he said.

Lambert said officials have made progress on the vast majority of recommendations in the HUD report, including lowering the vacancy rate in public housing units and instituting tighter financial controls. The report also said hiring a permanent director is "key to the recovery" of the agency.

Morris, who still has to sell her home in Virginia and find a place to live in Pasco, said she hopes to begin work within two months.

Once she starts the job, Morris and new governing board members plan to attend management training sponsored by HUD.

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

>>In other news ...

More local control

County commissioners would have more control over the panel that oversees the Pasco County Housing Authority under legislation approved Monday.

The bill, which now heads to Gov. Rick Scott, gives commissioners the power to appoint members to the housing authority's five-person governing board. Currently the governor's office appoints those members.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, sponsored the bill after a whistle-blower lawsuit surfaced last fall highlighting several management problems at the agency.

Though Scott replaced each member of the board after that scandal, Fasano said local officials are better suited to respond to any future problems at the agency. The bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.

New director tapped for embattled Pasco Housing Authority 03/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 9:03pm]
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