BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Housing Authority Commission continues to slowly find its way back to recovery, as it passed a new budget and approved a stop-gap agreement for its interim executive director Thursday.
As the commissioners grapple with who they want to lead the housing agency, board members made a series of moves to set themselves up for the next few months.
The board unanimously approved an agreement for interim director Darcy Branch to continue in her role month to month until the board decides who it wants to lead the agency. The move was somewhat unnecessary as the board already appointed Branch as its interim in September, but it gave Branch written assurance she could return to her previous role as financial director.
"I'll be here as an interim as long as you need me until a permanent director is hired," Branch told the commissioners. Branch said the idea of the agreement came up in discussions with attorney Ric Gilmore after sensing that all board members were not comfortable with a one-year contract.
Branch will continue to be paid her $121,680 salary, according to the agreement.
To get to that point, the board had to rescind a vote from the previous meeting to enter negotiations with Branch for a one-year con
tract. Discussion quickly moved to solidifying a national search for a new director.
Commissioner Charlie Grace and new commissioner Norma Dunwoody insisted on a national search being done sooner than later. The board unanimously voted to begin a national search following the review of the salary study and setting a salary range for the new director. The study is expected to be received Monday or Tuesday, Branch said, and a special workshop will be scheduled to discuss the salary study. The study reviewed salaries of housing authorities of similar size in Florida and the Southeast, she said.
Dunwoody, sworn in at Thursday's meeting, told the commissioners that the community thinks the board has "sugar-coated" the process and believes the commission doesn't intend to do a national search, or at least, will do one later.
"If you keep putting if off later, they're not going to forget," said Dunwoody, the commission's first resident commissioner in three years. "They're not. We need to get busy and get that national search in place."
Dunwoody continued to say that residents feel "shafted" about what's been going on at the housing authority, promises made, and on a larger scale, some decisions by city government.
"They wanted everything and everybody gone. That was the general feeling," she said. "More than half of them are saying, 'Oh, they're not going to do anything. It's just going to be the same as before.' That's what I mean by shafted."
Commissioner Rigo Rivera said it's hard to make the community, board and authority happy and wants to hear more from residents at meetings to hear specific concerns. He was visibly upset about the characterization that the commission "shafted" the community.
"I've been here for five years and this is the first time I heard 'shafted,''' Rivera said, pushing away from the table.
For the first time since 2007, the Housing Authority's capital budget funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be spent on housing rather than administrative salaries.
The housing authority on Thursday unanimously approved its fiscal 2015 budget, which begins April 1. The budget contains $1.5 million in operating expenses, with $821,200 contributed by HUD. The authority is projected to have $436,738 in operating reserves by the end of fiscal 2015, well above HUD's $329,963 cash reserve requirement. The fiscal 2014 budget was nearly $1.9 million.
HUD announced this week that the Bradenton Housing Authority will be allocated $328,614 for capital improvements. The money will be used primarily for repairing roofs in Sugg development and for a new lock system for the apartments, according to budget documents.
The fiscal 2015 budget includes $519,251 for salaries. Four employees were making more than $100,000 when former director Wenston DeSue and special projects director Stephany West were employed by the authority. The two were fired in September following a raid of the authority's offices. No charges have been filed against DeSue and West.
Now, Branch and development director Lance Clayton, who makes $110,594, are the lone employees making more than $100,000. In February, the board approved changes to its personnel policy to remove excessive bonuses and sick-time cashouts used under the previous administration that placed the authority in a deficit before DeSue's and West's dismissals.
Salaries could be changed or phased in when employees leave and new ones are hired, following the authority's salary study.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. You can follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.