BRADENTON -- With a salary comparison study completed, it appears at first look that the salaries of Bradenton Housing Authority employees are in line with other similar sized agencies.
The housing authority also is leaning toward a national search for a new executive director, officials said at a meeting Thursday.
Whether they are over-inflated, tax-payer-funded salaries gone too far is perhaps an argument for work breaks at the coffee station. But for the housing authority controversy, what employees are paid does not seem to be abnormal, according to the study.
The embattled agency was left rattled in October 2013 with a federal raid on its offices to investigate Wenston Desue, former executive director, and his girlfriend, former special projects manager Stephany West, for allegedly misusing public funds.
The branches of alleged deceit stretch out in many directions and the FBI investigation, in conjunction with the Office of Inspector General, which began in late 2013, is still ongoing as investigators try to piece together a complicated situation. There have been no charges filed in the case.
In the meantime, the housing authority is trying to move forward with its mission to
help low-income people find and maintain housing, while attempting to clean up the mess left in Desue's wake with Darcy Branch, long-time finance director and acting executive director, at the helm.
Complaints and accusations of inflated salaries spurred Branch to order the first salary comparison study in the agency's history. Branch hired Management Resource Group Inc., out of Atlanta.
Gary Lee, president of MRG, provided a presentation via telephone at a Thursday housing authority workshop meeting. Lee said the objective was to find agencies similar to the Bradenton Housing Authority. The list includes housing authorities in Manatee County, Dania Beach, Plant City, Titusville, Flagler County and Punta Gorda and three out-of-state housing authorities.
The result of Lee's study showed Bradenton Housing Authority salaries were comparable to those of other agencies.
Lee took it one step further.
"Other housing authorities don't have as many responsibilities and complexities as you do in Bradenton," he said.
The study focused on job descriptions and qualifications. That information was provided by Branch to MRG, who then updated the employee job descriptions and based salary expectations on those descriptions.
Bradenton City Councilman Gene Brown, liaison to the housing authority, asked about MRG's experience and whether the company had a website in order to do background research. Lee, as president of the company, said he didn't know if they had a website.
A website for the company could not be found, but Lee said he has been in business for 40 years and has worked with more than 200 housing authorities. He said he would be happy to send some brochures.
Three pay-range comparisons were provided to the housing authority commissioners to show an entry level pay range, about 5 years on the job and more than 10 years of employment. Six of the seven current employed administrators, minus an executive director, were all under or close to the salary comparisons with the exception of Development Director Lance Clayton, who is currently making $110,594 annually.
The average pay for his position is $84,601, but Clayton has been with the housing authority more than 20 years. The board is expected to discuss the overage, but indicated they would likely freeze his salary "until cost of living catches up to it," said Branch.
Lee said the focus of the study is based on position qualifications that include experience and education.
"These would be the salaries expected if they brought a certain degree of experience and education," said Lee.
After the meeting, Branch was asked if the board has reviewed the qualifications of its employees.
"The board did review experience qualifications in October, but they have not looked at education," she said. "We are more interested in experience. Our last executive director had education with no experience and that didn't work."
Current salaries for the housing authority employees compared to the study's averages are:
Finance Director Branch: $121,680 with 18 years of employment. Salary study average: $117,083.
Supervising Manager of Housing Audie Garza: $81,952 with 17 years of employment. Salary study average: $$78,898.
Associate Property Manager Nickol Ramirez: $58,822 with 12 years of employment. Salary study average: $58,110.
Occupancy FSS/Manager Anevette Gallardo: $53,477 with 8 years of employment. Salary study average: $56,014.
Development Director Clayton: $110,594 with 20 years of employment. Salary study average: $84,601.
Facilities Manager Jake Callahan: $56,035 with 6 years of employment. Salary study average: $53,885.
Maintenance positions: $36,691. Salary study average: $37,605.
Executive director estimated starting salary: $155,500. Salary study average: $117,083.
Desue was fired by the board following the federal raid. At the time, he was making more than $170,000 and had implemented policies to make even more with paid trips, cashing out sick time and more.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014