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A Times Editorial

Who let housing office mess get so bad?

We are happy the allegations of insider-dealing and bid-rigging at Hillsborough County's affordable housing office have finally landed on the desk of Robert O'Neill, the acting U.S. attorney who has a history in Tampa of putting corrupt housing officials behind bars. The housing office has been a rats' nest for years, and criminal questions aside, the larger point to answer is why it took County Administrator Pat Bean so long to clean up an office vital to the health and welfare of the community.

Bean gave O'Neill the findings of in-house investigations of the housing office, conducted by the county's professional standards bureau. They paint a picture of a working culture so incestuous it is hard to imagine how poor residents or taxpayers could have been worse served. Among the charges: Housing employees steered work and contracts to family and friends, put people who complained on enemies' lists and openly engaged in official misconduct, doing everything from destroying records and smearing colleagues to hiding outside employment.

O'Neill should take the matter seriously. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction because federal housing money is involved. The prosecutors' subpoena power could help do what county investigators could not — break through the wall of silence by uncooperative witnesses, several of whom quit their jobs while under investigation by the county. Whether he brings charges, the U.S. attorney could provide a fuller airing of this scandal.

For her part, Bean needs to answer how the problems got to this point. County commissioners have tried to distance themselves by piling on the housing office administrator, but the records make clear the ethical conflicts and back-stabbing far pre-dated the hiring of Howie Carroll. Commissioners need to quit calling for his head and turn their attention to Bean. Her inaction allowed this crisis to fester; as a result, Bill Armstrong has been pulled away from the success he is having at animal control to manage somebody else's mess.

That's sloppy administrating. It took the County Commission only months last year to gut wetlands protections rules after the developers started screaming. Yet it has allowed the housing program for the poor to be mismanaged for years. So much for this board's priorities.

Who let housing office mess get so bad? 06/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 4:45pm]
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