Candidates to be vetted by board members in lieu of consultant
BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Housing Authority is taking its first steps to search for a new executive director after tabling a contract Thursday for its acting director Darcy Branch.
The authority plans to advertise nationally in trade publications for a new executive director and rank the candidates in lieu of paying a consultant to save money and revisit the discussion at its January meeting.
Before the board reached that agreement, its members had to decide what to do with the contract for employment Branch had submitted. Board member Charlie Grace was surprised to have a contract up for approval at the meeting to discuss a new director.
"We ought to be finding out what we want and who we can get. I have nothing against Darcy, I think she can make a marvelous director, and I would vote for her if we had a group," Grace said. "But I kind of resented this contract when it comes up and appointing Darcy as the executive director. I feel like I'm trying to be railroaded into this. I don't like that."
The authority was scheduled to discuss the contract at its November meeting, but the meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum. The cancellation was announced the same day the Bradenton Herald published a report about the proposed contract.
The board is searching for a new director after firing Executive Director Wenston DeSue in September. DeSue is being investigated by the federal government for taking vacations while he was supposed to be at work, including a trip to Jamaica, among other allegations.
Gilmore acknowledged the board could have voted to approve Branch's contract because a resolution was presented with it, but recommended that the board perform a search for a new director. That also will allow the authority time to learn the results of the HUD investigation and to hire a permanent attorney to represent the authority and its board.
"Let's start out and put an advertisement out there and see who's out there, who's interested," Gilmore said. Posting the job, he said, will allow the public to know the authority is looking for a leader.
Given the history of the authority and its board, Gilmore advised the board to do as much of the work itself and not rely on staff or paid help.
"For the greatest transparency, you as the board should do every step and not delegate any step," Gilmore said. A special board meeting could be held to winnow candidates once applications are accepted, and board members could recommend interviews with the finalists to make sure the process follows open meeting laws.
Board members Napolean Mills, Jahna Leinhauser, Lois Gerber and Grace all voted to table the contract until the January meeting. Board member Rigo Rivera was absent.
The board had to take some sort of action because a resolution was attached to the contract, Gilmore said, and one city council member would have preferred the board to pull the resolution, as recommended by the attorney.
"Personally I would have pulled the item from the agenda, and by doing so it would have cleared the field for a national search in a manner that would be fair to all," said Bradenton City Councilman Harold Byrd, who attended the meeting because public housing rests in his ward.
He said the board made a good decision when they voted to table the resolution. Councilman and housing authority liaison Gene Brown, who also attended the meeting, agreed.
"I'm glad they didn't do a contract, and they are going to set up job descriptions and what staff should be," Brown said. "They need a rate study and staff study, so all could be aligned with other housing authorities of their size."
Gerber and Grace proposed giving Branch a contract as interim director, but Gilmore advised against that because the board already appointed Branch as interim.
Even with a search, Branch has the support of the board members.
"Darcy, this is not because we don't believe in you," Gerber said. "If we didn't believe in you, we wouldn't put you in a position that we put you in. In my mind, it is to protect you from any doubt that you are the one who should be the executive director."
Branch filled out a contract with intentions of applying and is requesting to maintain her current salary of $121,680. She has worked for the authority for 18 years and was most recently the financial director before the board appointed her acting director in September. Branch made $115,898 as financial director in the fiscal year ended March 31,, but under DeSue's regime, received the nearly 5 percent raise, bumping pay by $5,782.
Branch said she will consult reports from HUD and trade organizations like the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association to gauge a reasonable salary.
"I'm fine with the decision," Branch said. "The contract was placed on the agenda because I was asked by several board members at different times to place one."
Branch will issue the advertisement to save money in lieu of paying attorneys as the authority faces a deficit of about $300,000.
"We're in a bad situation financially, and attorneys aren't exactly cheap," Grace said.
Branch told the board that beginning April 1, 2014, the authority's new budget will not have a deficit.
Gilmore, a principal in Tampa-based Saxon Gilmore, was recommended to the authority as interim counsel from the Miami HUD field office and was hired in September, at the same meeting the board fired DeSue.
The board will consider hiring a permanent legal firm in January after a committee at the authority narrows the applicants, Branch said.
-- Janey Tate, Bradenton Herald reporter, contributed to this report.