BRADENTON -- Bradenton Housing Authority Chairman Napoleon Mills is stressing patience with other board members while a search for a new director plays out -- before offering its interim director a contract.
Housing Commissioner Rigo Rivera suggested Thursday the board give a one-year contract to interim Executive Director Darcy Branch.
"It would save the board at least $155,000, and at this time we need the savings," Rivera said, adding he's not ready to consider a three-year contract. "In the three months she's being doing this, she's done a phenomenal job, I feel."
The authority anticipates discussing the next steps to select a new director at its February meeting, with a new Tampa legal firm in place to help with the search.
Rivera said he doesn't want a month-to-month situation that could hurt staff morale.
"It's like trying to open a new starting baseball season with a manager just sitting in and not really appointed," Rivera said.
While Branch has helped the BHA clean up the financial mess left behind by previous Executive Director Wenston DeSue, who is under a federal investigation, Mills wants some breathing room to think.
"I don't want to rush this," Mills said. "But I don't want to put Darcy out on a limb for several months, or for a year."
Mills recommend the BHA attorney come back in February with direction and legal advice on how to proceed while also giving answers to the authority and Branch.
"The sooner we can get the process started so we can get a permanent director then it will be better for us and be better for her," Mills said.
Branch said she's OK with either situation and would be open to a contract to allow her to go back to her previous position.
"I am doing the job of both, I don't need the additional money and I'm capable of doing both jobs," Branch said.
The authority voted to spend $1,850 to hire Management Resource Group for a salary study and to update job descriptions for all BHA employees. It is expected to take 60 days to complete.
The study will determine a salary range for the new executive director. DeSue made $171,060 when he was fired in September, and Branch is asking to retain her $121,680 a year salary as financial director. A proposed three-year contract for Branch was tabled at the December BHA meeting.
Branch's salary as financial director is above that of other similar-sized agencies.
The range for small agencies (below 250 units) for a housing authority financial director is $50,000 to $71,000, based on salary data provided from several Florida agencies. Mid-range salaries run from $56,000 to $87,000, according to salary surveys.
The average executive director's salary comparable to the Bradenton Housing Authority, serving fewer than 250 units, should be $74,628 to $88,349, according to the latest U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development salary study. The salary formula could change under HUD by incorporating the number of Section-8 housing vouchers the authority administers, according to a HUD spokesman.
A new grant could contribute to the new director's salary. BHA was awarded a $34,500 Public Housing Family Self-Sufficiency grant from HUD to pay for administration payroll, Branch said. The agency was also awarded the grant in fiscal 2013.
Councilman Gene Brown, liaison to the housing authority, said the city went through its own salary survey to compare how much employees make compared with other similar-sized jurisdictions, which could help BHA with a salary study. Still, the authority has to be wise about wages, Brown said.
"You have to take the person out of the seat, and get that seat with the right amount of money -- the executive director's position needs to be what the salary is," Brown said. "Not just because this person did a good job, they deserve that. Obviously, that's what was done before. They thought they were doing a good job and got the salary so high, that's where they are now."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.