Karen Turner's resignation as executive director of the Pasco County Housing Authority is a necessary step to re-establish public confidence in the agency managing a $15 million budget and housing low-income residents in public complexes and private apartments.
Turner resigned Friday, just 10 days after publicly proclaiming no wrongdoing at the authority in response to news reports about a whistle-blower alleging fraud, bribery and falsified time sheets for a married employee with whom Turner had a sexual relationship. In a public meeting, Turner acknowledged the romance with former subordinate Pat Driscoll and labeled him as threatening and abusive, but she never documented those concerns with authorities.
Public records, however, do show Turner adept at producing documentation when she needed to rationalize firing whistler-blower Maggie Taffs or to mitigate Taffs' concerns about mismanagement. As Times staff writer Lee Logan reported, records show Turner fired Taffs after the former finance director reported a bribery rumor to an outside auditor. The agency released a dozen letters from employees — many written on the same day — that portrayed Taffs as verbally abusive, and the authority's outside legal counsel said she was dismissed for being disruptive.
Disruptive to whom? A director with a history of showing poor judgment? Reporting suspicions of financial wrongdoing at a federally funded agency shouldn't be construed as a disruption, nor a firing offense.
Turner's departure and the accompanying management and financial audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should allow the agency to return its attention to its primary responsibility — sheltering Pasco County's poorest residents. Exactly who will name Turner's replacement remains to be seen. The volunteer board of gubernatorial appointees has two vacancies and the three current board members continue to serve even though their terms expired. Rep. John Legg has asked Gov. Rick Scott to replace the current board, and Sen. Mike Fasano plans to file legislation giving the authority to appoint board members to the Pasco County Commission.
New leadership will improve accountability. Current board members defended Turner and said the whistle-blower's allegations were unfounded. The loyalty from board members Regina Mirabella, Len Trubia and Joan Spitrey, became misplaced, however, when they wrongly portrayed the episode as a power grab by Pasco County.
It is absurd to believe county government is eager to assume responsibility for 524 apartments in a dozen low-income housing complexes or that the county would shutter the projects and kick the occupants to the curb. However, allowing the County Commission to appoint the authority's board of directors will let the agency remain independent, but ensure greater answerability, communications and opportunities for improved efficiencies.
Providing decent and safe housing for single parents and poor and elderly residents isn't political sport and, until new appointments are made, the current board needs to fulfill its duties absent the gamesmanship.