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Housing Authority recites its successes

At its first meeting since receiving a scathing review and the resignation of its executive director, the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority reveled Thursday in the things it has accomplished recently.

The tenant waiting list had been revised; an inspection plan for apartments had been set up; a maintenance schedule was being worked on; and an expensive contract for cellular phones had been canceled.

Those are some of the first steps toward correcting a lengthy list of problems the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported last week. The federal agency's report criticized the condition of the Housing Authority and its management, and found misspent money, discriminatory rental practices and poor record-keeping. It demanded that the problems be corrected by December.

Commissioners said some of the problems had been addressed before HUD's report.

"I think there were some things in the report that were unfair," Housing Authority Commissioner Altamease Archie said.

At Thursday's meeting, some residents complained of the poor maintenance and other problems when Tim Keffalas was executive director. Keffalas resigned Tuesday, and the Housing Authority board has formally accepted his resignation. It is effective Aug. 5, but Keffalas will be on vacation until then. The Housing Authority also is considering whether to honor his request for severance pay.

Resident Juanita Johnson pleaded with board members to make sure they find a good replacement.

"Please, do the best screening that you can," she said.

The Housing Authority will have to go it alone until a new executive director can be hired, because the Clearwater Housing Authority board decided Thursday that it had neither the time nor the personnel to help.

Bill Keigans, chairman of the Tarpon Springs board, had asked Clearwater for temporary help after Keffalas' resignation.

Instead, Clearwater board members suggested that Tarpon Springs consider letting the Pinellas County Housing Authority take over its operations.

"I don't think we're in a position to run Tarpon Springs," said Terry Byrd, a member of Clearwater's board.

No Tarpon Springs representative attended Thursday's Clearwater board meeting. But when told of the board's decision, Keigans said, "I figured something like that."

Clearwater officials said they can't help because they are short-staffed and concerned that taking time to straighten out Tarpon Springs' problems would detract from their work in Clearwater. The Clearwater Housing Authority has 580 public housing apartments and 931 other subsidized low-rent apartments.

Keigans has also called Dean Robinson, executive director of the Pinellas County Housing Authority, for help.

Robinson ran the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority for nine months before Keffalas was hired two years ago. The county stepped in after the Housing Authority asked for help.

But Robinson told the Times earlier Thursday that he didn't think the county would be interested in a temporary management agreement with Tarpon Springs.

"It was so very time-consuming," he said.

But, he said, the county might consider absorbing the Tarpon Springs authority.

"This is something I've been mulling over," Robinson said.

But it also is an option in which Keigans said he has no interest.

"You don't want to give everything up," Keigans said. "We can operate; we won't have any problems."

Keigans said the Housing Authority's board should begin advertising for an executive director next week.

But Robinson said its recent troubles with HUD will make finding one more difficult.

"Would you want to stick your head in the lion's mouth?" Robinson asked.