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HUD letter ousts housing boss

The Brooksville Housing Authority has received a long-awaited letter from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development suspending executive director Betty Trent.

Trent and the authority's recently retired program manager, Joe Ann Bennett, were indicted a month ago on federal charges of stealing more than $40,000 in money intended to refurbish low-income apartments.

Trent has since been allowed to stay home and collect vacation pay, though housing authority board members have said for more than three weeks that a letter ordering her suspension was on its way from Washington.

Board Chairwoman Helen Fleming dropped off the letter - which was sent Nov. 24 - at the housing authority offices Thursday afternoon, said Billye Fetrow, the program manager.

Because Fleming did not answer repeated calls to her home on Friday, it was not known when she received the letter, which was addressed to her home in Brooksville.

The letter does not technically order Trent's suspension, said HUD spokeswoman Donna White, because the department does not have authority to take such an action. It does, however, suspend her from receiving or spending any HUD funds.

That adds up to a suspension because the authority is entirely funded by HUD, said board member Carl Pilcher.

He had not seen the letter, he said Friday, so he could not comment on it. Vice Chairman Allen Rhodes declined to comment.

Several board members attended a meeting of the Hernando Housing Authority on Thursday, when the county agency voted to allow its executive director, Donnie Singer, to serve as interim head of the Brooksville authority.

The county authority will be paid $31 per hour for his services for the length of the arrangement - no more than six months, said Paul Sullivan, board chairman of the Hernando authority.

The agreement also limits Singer's work for the Brooksville agency to 20 hours a week and requires it to pay if the county authority needs to hire anyone to make up for Singer's absence.

Another county authority board member, Anna Liisa Covell, said she was disappointed that neither Fleming nor other Brooksville authority board members mentioned Trent's suspension at the meeting.

"I just wish they would have laid everything on the table,'' Covell said.

Paul Boston, a member of the city housing authority, has said Fleming, who has been on the board since 1992, has been too protective of Trent.

For Fleming and other board members "to come out and declare (Trent) is innocent and for them to make moves for the public to believe the same: I think that's wrong,'' Boston said on Tuesday.

That was a day after Fleming repeated this claim as she left a Brooksville City Council meeting.

"I feel that she is innocent so I just feel we need someone temporarily in that position until this is all settled,'' Fleming said of Trent. "She's just not a person who is against the rules.''

Times staff writer Jon Abel contributed to this report. Dan DeWitt can be reached at dewitt@sptimes.com or (352)754-6116.

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