BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Housing Authority will start contract negotiations to hire Darcy Branch as its permanent director while commissioners weigh whether to launch a national search.
Commissioners Napoleon Mills, Rigo Rivera and Lois Gerber voted in favor of starting negotiations. Commissioner Jahna Leinhauser resigned from the board and previous resident commissioner Gilbert Jones no longer attends meetings because he moved out of housing authority property.
The board is planning a workshop Tuesday morning to start negotiations with Branch. A search for a new director would probably begin near or at the end the end of negotiations with Branch, but hasn't been formally approved by the board.
Rivera urged against a search because of cost and concern that the search would take longer than three months, but Mills disagreed.
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"I don't know who's out there. I don't know if someone's out there that's better certified than Darcy," Mills said. "The reason that I don't know is because nobody has told me. The only way I can find out is to do a search to find out."
A search is important, Mills added, to prove to the community that the board is doing due diligence and regain public trust -- especially after doing two searches in the past and going against recommendations by selecting people with ties to the agency.
"The community doesn't have that trust in us anymore by doing that," Mills said. "In order to dispel that, we have
to let them know that we've done that (search)."
Gerber disagreed, saying such a search is just a public relations campaign.
"I have yet to see people in this community, a national search turning up anything that is solving any problems except nobody can criticize them for who they hired because it was a national search," Gerber said. "I don't understand why we have to go through the motions of a PR campaign to do what we know is best."
Branch, who wants to retain her $121,680 salary, reaffirmed her belief that she can run the authority.
"I've been here 18 years, and I understand the meaning of a national search and transparency," she said. "I don't see how you're going to find anyone else in a national search that knows this housing authority better than I do and can run it better than me."
The negotiation sessions would lay out terms of the contract, and the contract would have to be voted in open session at a future meeting, housing authority attorney Ric Gilmore said.
The board also formally voted down a form contract previously proposed by Branch. The board again discussed, during a third meeting, whether to provide a contract to Branch as interim though she is already serving as the interim director.
Gilmore had to remind the board again that it's not wise to offer an interim contract.
"If you hired her for a year and narrow it down that you find out you want to hire somebody else, two months down the road, I'm not sure what that does for Darcy," Gilmore said. If the board chooses to do a national search, it takes two to three months, he said.
The negotiations start as the board is still waiting on a salary study to show what employees at the housing authority, including the finance director and executive director, should make. That report is expected to be available in March, when the board also is set to approve its budget for fiscal year 2015.
Former Executive Director Wenston DeSue was fired in September by the authority following a federal raid of the authority's offices. DeSue has not been charged with any wrong- doing.
Personnel manual approved
In other action, the housing authority approved revamping its personnel policy manual that eliminated several costly perks.
Gilmore said at the meeting he was concerned that someone might be able to take advantage of the retirement policy by the next meeting where someone could take their work car with them or $10,000 cash. But Branch said no one is scheduled to retire, and the board's approval negated that concern.
Among the polices changed include eliminating an attendance policy that contradicted personal leave policies, restricting use of take-home cars and gas cards, decreasing vacation and sick time accrual and eliminating the cash out of sick time.
The changes result in a 30 percent salary cut for employees, Branch said.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.