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State should consider changes to housing authorities beyond Pasco

A state push for greater oversight of the Pasco Housing Authority this week picked up an unexpected, but welcomed, endorsement from the regional prosecutor, who told legislators they should consider even broader changes.

The commentary from Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe came Monday afternoon at Pasco's legislative delegation meeting after the lawmakers unanimously endorsed a bill giving the County Commission authority to appoint board members overseeing the agency. Those appointments are now made by the governor's office.

McCabe asked legislators to act further, citing untrustworthy audits, huge volumes of pass-through money, historic mismanagement and a propensity for volunteer boards to be led astray by the professional staff. Among his suggestions is a requirement to have circuit court clerks — who double as county comptrollers with auditing power — verify housing authority audits.

Certainly another set of eyes wouldn't hurt, particularly in Pasco where the housing authority's $15.1 million budget is under scrutiny after a whistle-blower lawsuit alleged fraud, bribery and falsified time sheets to provide exorbitant overtime to favored employees. As Times staff writer Lee Logan reported recently, a review of time cards showed one employee worked 1,000 hours of overtime in an eight-month period, including instances where he was on the clock for 110 hours a week. The authority has said there is no wrongdoing and the overtime was earned during a remodeling of the agency's headquarters.

Since the lawsuit's allegation became public: The agency's executive director resigned after acknowledging she dated a subordinate, but denied inappropriate behavior while on the job. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began a review of the agency's finances and management practices. And, Gov. Rick Scott appointed four highly regarded community members to the board, replacing the current volunteers whose terms had expired.

All were necessary steps to rebuild public confidence in an agency charged with housing low-income residents in a dozen public complexes and providing rental vouchers for the poor and elderly to obtain private apartments.

Monday, area legislators took another necessary step — making board members accountable to the Pasco County Commission, which would give oversight to five locally elected officials. The bill from Sen. Mike Fasano and Rep. Peter Nehr must be approved by the full House and Senate.

While the bill is debated in Tallahassee, legislators should consider incorporating McCabe's ideas to make public housing agencies more accountable to the audience they are supposed to serve — the public.

State should consider changes to housing authorities beyond Pasco 09/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2011 5:40pm]
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