Bradenton Housing Authority attempts to move forward

myoung@bradenton.comApril 13, 2014 

BRADENTON -- For the Bradenton Housing Authority, moving forward means navigating out of layers of mistrust created by scandal.

Addressing that mistrust is likely a twofold process. At a workshop meeting last week, board members raised some hope that they can begin to clear the air with the public by focusing more on how the housing authority serves the community and finding potential new leadership.

Acting Executive Director Darcy Branch said the Bradenton Housing Authority serves more people with less staff than any other similar-sized housing authority. It lists 199 HUD Section 8 vouchers, 45 state Section 8 vouchers, 248 public housing units, four federal housing units and 152 tax-credit units for a total of 648 units. That doesn't include the work it takes to maintain those units and address the needs of those living in them.

The board also is focused on conducting a national search for a new executive director. Branch is acting executive director, assuming the role following the October 2013 firing of its former executive director Wensten Desue, who is now under federal investigation because of how he ran the authority.

There has been some debate about keeping Branch at the post. She has volunteered to maintain her financial director salary of $121,680 and do both jobs, saving the housing authority at least $155,500 a year. The executive director salary is not currently budgeted.

If one was hired in this fiscal year, it could put the

agency back in the red after reworking policies developed by Desue that opened the door to alleged indiscriminate spending and unchecked abuse.

Branch has been criticized for being the financial director and not being aware of the financial mismanagement, but has indicated Desue operated without accountability on his own terms.

The board will schedule a May workshop to discuss moving forward with an executive director search.

After the meeting Thursday, the board was asked how it would act in overseeing the management of a new executive director to ensure financial mismanagement did not occur again. The board members fell silent, as they reached for their things to head for the door.

Only board Chair Napolean Mills stepped up to indicate it was something the board will need to work on, as well as transparency concerns from the public.

"Transparency to the community is going to be very important moving forward," said Mills. "It's important that they know what it is that the housing authority does and that is one thing we will press upon a new executive director."

During the meeting, board member Rigo Rivera said the board is simply an unpaid, voluntary advisory committee to the executive director and should not micromanage housing authority activities, thus absolving the board of any past and future responsibility.

Attorney Rick Gilmore, senior partner of Tampa-based Saxon/Gilmore, who is acting as a legal adviser to the board, differed with that assessment.

"You have some judiciary responsibilities and liabilities," said Gilmore. "You need to take your roles seriously and ask questions, but at the same time understand the lines of day-to-day operations."

Gilmore acknowledged that it can be a wavy line at times.

The board will again meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at 2002 Ninth Ave. E.

At that time, board members are expected to provide to the public a history of the housing authority and explain its primary function.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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