Bradenton Housing Authority board, city cannot brush off responsibility

December 26, 2013 

FILE: Bradenton City Councilman Gene Brown and City Clerk Carl Callahan listen to Bradenton Housing Authority Board members in December.TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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Several thoughts come to mind in the wake of more disturbing developments in the ongoing investigation of the Bradenton Housing Authority by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Last week HUD's Office of General Counsel revealed that both Wenston DeSue, the former executive director, and Stephany West, the ousted special projects director and DeSue's girlfriend, regularly worked less than 40 hours a week and charged the housing authority for time on the job while away on personal excursions.

HUD also indicated to the BHA that an indictment is imminent.

Our thoughts:

• The City of Bradenton and the board of directors for the Bradenton Housing Authority failed miserably in oversight duties of the housing authority, as the HUD investigation is proving.

• Certain city officials and board members should quit assigning blame to HUD as the agency responsible for oversight. The idea that a federal agency should be accountable for a city-created housing authority that is governed by an appointed board of local residents is simply ludicrous. Trying to deflect that duty elsewhere is shameless.

• Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston cannot wipe his hands clean of this with a rash statement: "The only responsibility I have is to name the board members and I'm done. I'm getting assigned responsibility I don't have."

We beg to differ. The low-income residents who lease properties under the housing authority's control deserve better representation than that.

The mismanagement and overspending at the BHA has left them with very poor service, sometimes none at all as authority employees worked short hours and resident complaints about properties were ignored.

Now the BHA must deal with a massive budget deficit -- some $300,000.

• The board must tighten control of the authority and demand more of the next executive director -- first and foremost, complete transparency. The past board practice of rubber-stamping resolutions without reading the specific policy language must cease.

That sort of casual trust has obviously been abused to the point that HUD issued an Integrity Bulletin to the BHA covering embezzlement and fraud. The federal agency also notified commissioners that they could be sued individually for failing to take action -- which should indeed spur strong board oversight.

• With the scandal brewing since September's ouster of the two executives, the city's interest finally came around when two council members, Gene Brown and Harold Byrd, attended last week's board meeting with City Clerk and Treasurer Carl Callahan.

Brown serves as the council liaison to the board and comes to the role tardy having missed previous meetings. Byrd's Ward 5 includes the authority. Both promise greater city involvement, and that is a step in the right direction.

• By all means, the board should conduct a national search for a new director -- even if the road leads back to the interim chief, Darcy Branch.

And the oversized salaries must be cut back to reasonable amounts that rank with other regional housing authorities of similar size -- not only for the director but for other BHA employees as well.

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