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Pasco County Housing Authority leaving troubles behind

The Pasco County Housing Authority is moving in the right direction with new employment rules to avoid a repeat of embarrassing accusations of a romantic relationship between manager and subordinate that led to a whistle-blower lawsuit. Just as important, though, is an offer from Pasco County government to share its expertise in seeking financial assistance for housing.

Both are welcome developments at an agency that is searching for an executive director and awaiting a federal audit that is expected to be critical of past mismanagement.

The housing authority, with a $15 million annual budget, owns 524 apartments in a dozen low-income complexes and also provides vouchers for needy residents to obtain housing from private landlords. A review of its spending and management practices already revealed the agency willingly accepted a 15 percent vacancy rate because of its inability to ready apartments for new tenants even though it had a waiting list of 2,300 people seeking housing.

The agency contended it was short on cash though, in 2008, it could afford more than $11,000 in overtime to remodel and paint administrative offices. The overtime wages went to an employee accused of being romantically involved with the now former director, Karen Turner. She resigned in September after news accounts of the whistle-blower lawsuit that alleged a tryst in the office, fraud, bribery and falsified time sheets.

The authority's board of commissioners this week approved a nonfraternization policy intended to keep agency bosses from dating their subordinates, a significant addendum to the current employee handbook that discourages relationships between employees and tenants.

The previous commission denied the lawsuit's allegations, but Turner did acknowledge a past romantic relationship with a different subordinate — a former employee she later labeled a threatening abuser.

The entanglements of romance, however, never did exist between the agency and Pasco County government. That relationship soured when the authority rejected a $250,000 interest-free loan, which did not have to be repaid, to fix the air-conditioning at its housing complex in Hudson. The agency passed because the county required a mortgage agreement in the event the authority ever sold the property.

Later, the authority's previous commissioners criticized the county for not sharing federal stimulus money under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program even though the agency never applied to Pasco for an appropriation.

Having the county handle the agency's grant-writing chores — Pasco will bid for the job — should prove to be an asset by providing greater efficiencies and expertise. It also should help the authority to overcome past obstinacy and to expand the resources available for its mission — housing some of Pasco's neediest residents.

Pasco County Housing Authority leaving troubles behind 01/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 12, 2012 7:57pm]
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