TARPON SPRINGS — On the campaign trail, Tim Keffalas points to his experience as executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority as a reason residents should elect him to the City Commission.
On his campaign website, 13 of the 14 points detailing his experience relate to his time as the authority's leader from 1994 to 1996.
At public candidate forums, Keffalas, who along with Jeffrey Antous is trying to unseat incumbent Commissioner Susan Slattery in the March 8 election, makes a point of talking about his time at the helm of the Housing Authority.
But while Keffalas was director, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that Keffalas, 56, used his moral views to discriminate against people by refusing to rent apartments to unmarried adults with children.
The 30-page report, which was completed in July 1996, also stated there was shoddy recordkeeping and budgeting at the authority and that Keffalas was overly involved in day-to-day operations.
"Lack of delegation of responsibility by the executive director appears to be a major cause of the problems," the report detailed.
"He was asked to resign," said Helene Pierce, 72, who was a Housing Authority Board member at the time. "There were a lot of questions about bookkeeping. Keffalas would make all kinds of notes and stickies and then lose them."
Four days after HUD's report, Keffalas faxed a resignation letter to the board while he was on vacation. Keffalas vehemently denies HUD's findings and said the problem with the authority was its board, the lack of support from the city and HUD itself.
"Before I got there, the place was left to run by itself," Keffalas said during a recent interview. "The place was in shambles. Every time we would try to make things better, somebody on the board always tried to undermine it. It got to the point where we couldn't function. The city seemed indifferent. It was a constant battle."
The HUD report criticized Housing Authority commissioners, too, stating they didn't know their jobs. But the report also zeroed in on improper recordkeeping and said there was no reason for a third of the authority's 225 apartments to be vacant. Because of excessive vacancies, HUD withheld federal subsidies for those apartments.
Keffalas, 56, contends HUD only cared about filling apartments, no matter what kind of shape the apartments were in. He said he did not discriminate against potential renters and was following HUD's guidelines.
"We were going by the procedure that was given to us by HUD the year before," Keffalas said. "We went strictly by that. They wanted people in there, no matter who they were."
Keffalas wrote to President Bill Clinton and the White House listing concerns about HUD.
When he was hired as Housing Authority director in June 1994, Keffalas had never been executive director of an organization or worked with public housing or federal funding.
He previously worked for Florida Blood Services as a donor recruiter. In April 1994, after four years, he was fired.
Housing Authority board members apparently weren't aware when they hired him that he had been fired from his previous job.
"It was really none of their business," Keffalas said. "I don't believe I was ever asked."
In 1995, Keffalas sued Florida Blood Services for wrongful termination. He said he was fired because he complained about policies and practices that he felt violated health and safety rules.
In court documents, Florida Blood Services said Keffalas was fired because of poor job performance and his adversarial relationship with co-workers. Keffalas said the matter was ultimately settled out of court and that he can't speak about the terms.
Since 1997, Keffalas has been a small business owner.
Pat Weber was hired as Housing Authority executive director after Keffalas left.
"HUD grades housing and when I got here, we had an F," Weber said. "HUD had a written improvement plan and that's what I followed to get it back to an A category. It took me three years."
But Keffalas stands by his work as the authority's director. Among other things, he said he installed a laundry room at the apartments for the seniors on Ring Avenue and he removed 27 known drug dealers from public housing. Because of a grant he wrote, air conditioning was added to apartments. And he said he implemented a federally mandated work order process.
"There were five maintenance staff members working their tails off, all of us doing whatever had to be done," Keffalas said. "It was a disaster when I went in there and the board let it be that way."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at [email protected] or 727-445-4174