BRADENTON -- As Bradenton Housing Authority commissioners laid the groundwork for a contract for interim director Darcy Branch, one commissioner raised concerns that his colleagues might be skipping a few steps.
"I think we're going too fast with this to get things done and go back to our old ways of doing things," Commissioner Charlie Grace said as the board learned of its options for a proposed one-year contract for Branch during a workshop Tuesday in lieu of a search.
Grace, who was absent from Thursday's meeting, was concerned after learning at the workshop that the
board had voted to begin negotiations with Branch for an one-year contract and had decided not to do a search until the 11th month of her contract when they could opt to hire her for another year.
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The board met Tuesday morning to learn of its options in a pre-negotiation workshop before chairman Napoleon Mills and Branch would work on the contract details to bring before the board at its March 20 meeting. Commissioner Rigo Rivera was absent from the workshop.
"I don't think we should commit ourselves to a certain person now, especially with the way the people are looking at this organization and say we just picked the closest one again," Grace said.
Grace was surprised to hear from his colleagues that the commission agreed to put off a search until after Branch has been with the agency for 11 months as director.
Attorney Ric Gilmore encouraged Grace to check the minutes to see what happened at Thursday's meeting.
However, while the board discussed the option of postponing a search after negotiating with Branch, the board's motion only included starting contract negotiations with Branch for the executive director position. It did not exclude a national search.
Mills dissented in that vote while commissioners Lois Gerber and Rivera voted in favor. Mills said after the meeting he would have to look at the minutes and listen to the recording as well to figure out exactly what course the commission set up for itself, but it doesn't change his mind for needing a search.
"We need to see who's out there to be the ongoing director for the housing authority," Mills said.
Grace also said he might take up the suggestion by Commissioner Lois Gerber that he could make a motion at the next meeting to approve a contract only after a search is done.
The form contract proposed a one-year term with another renewable one-year term, but that could also be changed in negotiations and the board can request a change.
City Councilman Gene Brown, liaison to the housing authority, was concerned that the board had its work out of order because the salary study now won't be available to the board until the week after the March 20 meeting where the contract could be approved.
"We're doing a contract and we don't even know what salary to contract for," Brown said. "Because there's been no salary survey, it's kind of the cart before the horse. It's nothing against Darcy, but how do you negotiate the salary before you know what the salary should be?"
Brown also cautioned sbout community reaction if the board approved the contract and finds out later that the salary was not in line.
"The national eyes are on us as we know," Brown said. "We don't want to do anything wrong, and we don't want to disrespect any staff members that are here. We've got to go forward."
Mills said at the next meeting the board should have a discussion about the proposed salary and a range. Gerber said she's willing to wait.
"I will not vote for a contract until the salary search has been done," Gerber said. "Even if she comes in for $30,000, I won't even do it until we see what the search is."
Brown added he hopes that all five board members will be at the next meeting to make a decision after absences at previous meetings. Norma Dunwoody is expected to be appointed by the mayor at tonight's City Council meeting to serve as the resident housing authority commissioner bringing the board back to five members.
Grace reiterated his support for a national search before extending a contract to Branch or someone else.
"I have nothing against Darcy," Grace said. "I think she's marvelous, but I think we need to find the best one. She's most likely the best one, but I'd like to know that we have more than one candidate, and she's the best of one candidate. I don't think she'd want that either."
Gerber would be open to doing a search, but would like to keep Branch for at least a year or two. Branch said she does not have a resume prepared but will work on providing one to give to the Herald to offer an overview of her work history.
"Maybe we do need to do a search," Gerber said. "I don't know, but in the meantime we do need to have an executive director."
By next meeting, the board should have an employment contract, hashing out details including incidental travel for a work-issued car, performance evaluations, goal setting for the director and a termination clause.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.