Bradenton Housing Authority set to change perks policies

Housing Authority still trying to fix damage from previous director DeSue

cschelle@bradenton.comFebruary 19, 2014 

Bradenton Housing Authority interim executive director Darcy Branch meets with the board to discuss the hiring process for a new executive director after the previous director, Wenston DeSue, was fired after he became the subject of an investigation. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Housing Authority is poised to undo a list of benefits that for years filled the pockets of employees and the former executive director.

The authority's commissioners will meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday to vote on removing several of these benefits, including one that allowed retired employees to keep their work-issued car or $10,000 cash.

The revamped policy manual and a salary study that will be made available in March are the last steps before the authority selects its new director.

The changed policies will result in a 30 percent pay cut for each employee, including herself, said interim executive director Darcy Branch.

"I think that we will definitely be financially in line with money we receive," Branch said. "There won't be a deficit for the next year's budget."

The housing authority has a deficit of about $300,000, partially attributed to the bonuses. Branch said the authority will be able to cover those costs this year with reserve funds.

In lieu of paying for the authority's attorney Ric Gilmore to overhaul the manual, Branch said she took it upon herself to review the policies by aligning them with city and county policies.

The housing authority's policies as proposed are more austere than some city policies. The city of Bradenton allows its employees to cash out 25 percent of their sick time, allowing a maximum of 280 hours to be accrued.

The authority could not afford to allow anyone to cash out sick or vacation time, Branch said.

The proposed policy changes include:

• Eliminating policy giving retired employee who worked 15 years assigned vehicle or $10,000 cash.

• Eliminating attendance policy created in 2008 that counted vacation, jury duty and bereavement leaves as absences, where three or more absences in a year could result in discipline.

• Take-home cars should only be used for incidental personal travel and not unlimited. Fuel cards may only be used once every seven days.

• Eliminating bonus policy awarding discretionary bonuses up to 10 percent plus prorated bonuses for long-term employees.

• In lieu of paying overtime, employees should use flex time to take off work.

• Vacation and sick hour accumulations reduced from 15 hours per month to 4.62 per paycheck.

• Maximum vacation accrual will be decreased from 500 hours to 300 hours over the next two years. Hours above the maximum will be transferred to sick time.

• No sick time can be cashed out.

• New hires will no longer be offered a longevity bonus. Employees who work five or more years with the authority will receive one week's pay for every five years of employment. Retirees will be paid one-twelfth of each month of employment during their retirement year.

City Councilman Gene Brown, housing authority liaison, is pleased with the work done so far on the personnel policies, especially eliminating the large bonuses.

"I think it's bringing it where it should be, closer to where it should be," Brown said.

The current policies allowed former executive director Wenston DeSue to receive a $17,000 bonus plus cash-out sick time worth between $7,127 and $28,510 last year before he was fired.

During DeSue's tenure, the attendance policy dissuaded employees from taking time off from work, and instead paid them for their sick and vacation time. During that time, DeSue is being accused by HUD of taking trips to Jamaica, Busch Gardens and Washington during work time without using his vacation or other personal time available.

Some of the policies, like the bonus policy, were approved by the commission through resolution, and it appears in some cases the board members didn't actually see the policy before they approved it. Other policies appeared without anyone's knowledge, according to the board and other officials.

Branch was BHA's financial director under DeSue and did not attend the board meetings. DeSue would shut the door while the commission met, she said.

"I don't think he hid a lot from me," Branch said. "I think when he put something in front of the board he wanted passed, he would manipulate until he got his way."

DeSue and former special projects director Stephany West have not been charged with any wrongdoing. The two were fired from the authority following a raid by federal officials in September.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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