Bradenton Housing Authority keeps executive director applications sealed

myoung@bradenton.comJuly 11, 2014 

BRADENTON -- With emphasis being placed on transparency, the Bradenton Housing Authority adjourned Thursday without making public 39 applications from people wanting to lead the scandal-ridden agency.

The board debated for about an hour on how to review the applications before agreeing to seek outside help.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development's Office of Inspector General raided the agency while investigating alleged financial mismanagement by Wenston DeSue, former executive director and his girlfriend, Stephany West, former BHA projects manager. Allegations include the couple taking extravagant trips on the BHA's dime, billing the BHA for time worked while on personal time and more.

Soon after, the BHA board fired DeSue.

Almost a year later, however, no charges have been filed. The hunt for new leadership is a step forward in regaining the public's trust, according to BHA Chairman Napoleon Mills,

Applicants include acting Executive Director Darcy Branch, who was financial director under DeSue.

Eighteen applicants failed to follow the submission process set by the board. Board

member Charlie Grace said they should be dropped from consideration

"If people can't follow written instructions, I don't know if I'd be comfortable with them as executive director," he said.

The board opted to set aside the misfiled applications, giving 21 correctly mailed applications first priority.

How to move forward is not as simple.

Board Attorney Ric Gilmore of Gilmore/Saxon of Tampa suggested three options. The BHA Board could:

• Use its own scoring system and handle the process on its own;

• Ask the city of Bradenton's Human Resources Department for help with initial screening; or

• Hire a consultant to do the screening.

Board member Lois Gerber balked at asking the city for help.

"I don't understand why we need the city to tell us to look at qualifications of a job we've been managing for years," she said.

Mills said BHA Board management hasn't gone well in recent years, which is why it is important to reach outside the board to show the public the BHA is taking every precaution to ensure what happened under DeSue doesn't happen again.

"From the beginning of this, I wanted to be transparent," said Mills. "One of the things we can do is let the community know how we are going to do that and if we have an agency like the city reaching out to help us, then we should take advantage of that experience."

Ward 2 City Councilman Gene Brown, city liaison to the BHA, agreed the city could help with the process. Brown said, however, the BHA should reach out to a consultant.

"We still have a public image nightmare in this town with people thinking this is the city's responsibility or the housing authority board's responsibility," he said. "I believe everybody in this room is a good person who is trying to do a good thing, but the perception is that there are issues here."

Board members ultimately agreed to have Gilmore return to the board's regular July 17 meeting with three consulting firm bids for the board to consider, as well as a cost estimates.

The applications were kept sealed under Gilmore's care.

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

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