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Pasco County Housing Authority executive director Karen Turner resigns

Regina Mirabella, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Pasco County Housing Authority, talks to reporters before Friday’s meeting. Asked why Turner had to resign, Mirabella said, “We have to get back to work. We’re a small agency, we can’t get work done.”

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Regina Mirabella, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Pasco County Housing Authority, talks to reporters before Friday’s meeting. Asked why Turner had to resign, Mirabella said, “We have to get back to work. We’re a small agency, we can’t get work done.”

PORT RICHEY — Karen Turner, the embattled executive director of the Pasco County Housing Authority, has resigned.

Turner did not attend the governing board meeting Friday at the Pasco Terrace elderly housing complex in Port Richey. Instead, board chairwoman Regina Mirabella read Turner's brief resignation letter.

"I cannot say enough wonderful things about the Pasco County Housing Authority," Turner's letter read. "I hope my contributions to the company have been constructive." Turner also said she left because of "medical reasons."

Turner's resignation took effect immediately. Linda Wright, the agency's No. 2 administrator, was named as interim director. The agency will put out requests for a permanent replacement.

It was a swift downfall for Turner, who since 2000 had directed the agency that receives $15.1 million to provide housing for lower income residents. Questions began three weeks ago after a whistleblower lawsuit by a former employee surfaced in the press.

The lawsuit, by former finance director Maggie Taffs, included several charges of mismanagement and accused Turner of having sex at the agency's Dade City headquarters with a subordinate.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development recently began an inquiry into the agency and is expected to recommend changes to the management structure.

As the scandal intensified, Turner went on medical leave.

Asked why Turner had to resign, Mirabella said: "We have to get back to work. We're a small agency, we can't get work done. We are just trying to get back to taking care of the residents of Pasco County."

Added board member Len Trubia: "I think it's really ridiculous. I think it's about money, power and politics. It has nothing to do with the job she's doing."

The fate of the housing authority's governing board is also in question. There are two vacancies on the five-member board, and the three members are serving expired terms.

State Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, said Gov. Rick Scott's office told him replacing new members is a "high priority." Legg said he will recommend four people for the job — none of whom are currently on the board. The fifth member must be a tenant living in subsidized housing.

Mirabella sounded resigned that a new board will soon take over.

"We are not being fired," she 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 later this month at the meeting of Pasco's legislative delegation.

"It was best for everyone involved that the director resigned," he said, comparing the situation with recent controversy at the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board. "You had to go in there and just clean house."

Taffs sued the agency in February for wrongful termination. She accused Turner of approving large amounts of overtime for a favored employee, failing to look into allegations that an agency inspector accepted a $50 bribe, and mistakenly approving four years of rental payments after a tenant lost her public housing benefits.

The housing authority's lawyer has said the agency investigated those claims and found nothing to back them up.

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

Pasco County Housing Authority executive director Karen Turner resigns 09/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2011 8:25pm]
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