BRADENTON -- Washington, D.C.-based Telesis Corp. missed a Dec. 31 deadline set by the Bradenton Housing Authority to respond to demands to begin meeting contractual obligations regarding the Bradenton Village Apartments on 13th Avenue East near First Street.
Telesis did respond after the deadline, however, and founder and President Marilyn Melkonian is in Bradenton this week to ensure lines of communication remain open with the BHA in regard to the 125 public housing residents who make up about half of the public-private U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Hope VI complex.
Melkonian also agreed to BHA demands for timely financial reporting and allowing the BHA to access public housing units for quality control inspections.
BHA Executive Director Ellis Mitchell Jr., hired in November 2014 to turn around an agency riddled with scandal, made Bradenton Village a priority after he began receiving complaints from residents about living conditions and accusations of bullying tactics from management company, Neighborhood Partners, owned by Telesis.
Mitchell said he was initially told BHA had no authority over Bradenton Village Apartment residents and the contract gave full management authority to Telesis.
Unsatisfied, Mitchell spent months reviewing the 400-page document and discovered BHA has a lot more rights than he was led to believe. The BHA has had inspection and compliance monitoring rights over Telesis all along.
Former BHA Executive Director Wenston DeSue, convicted in September on one count of theft of federal funds after spiraling the agency into a $500,000 debt, had oversight. DeSue hired his now-wife, Stephany West, convicted on a similar charge in September, to do the job.
"But it was never done," Mitchell said.
DeSue was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison while West received five years probation. Combined, the couple was ordered to repay more than $350,000 in restitution to HUD.
According to Mitchell, the contract calls for Telesis to provide monthly, quarterly and annual reports to BHA. The reports were either not submitted at all or submitted late.
The contract also allows BHA to monitor quality control and inspect unit inspect and calls for Telesis to maintain the empty lot between the apartments and Rogers Elementary School. It was the site of Bradenton Village's Phase IV, but was never built when HUD funding for Hope VI projects was cut.
BHA spent almost $5,000 a year to maintain the vacant land because Telesis would not. BHA pays 95 percent of the public housing rent at Bradenton Village to Telesis, but Mitchell said the contract is clear BHA can withhold payment if Telesis does not meet its obligations.
Mitchell threatened as much in his November letter to Melkonian, who is in town to meet with Bradenton Village and BHA staff. She briefly attended Thursday's BHA meeting to assure everyone Telesis is on board, saying only: "More to come."
Melkonian agreed in a written response all required reporting would take place and completed on a timely basis. She agreed Telesis would pick up the expense of maintaining the vacant land and that BHA has quality control inspection rights.
However, she suggested BHA use existing reports from an outside company Telesis uses to conduct quality control inspections of the entire complex.
Mitchell said BHA would do its own inspections.
"What we can choose to do is either get copies of those reports or do the inspections ourselves," said Mitchell. "They do an overall general inspection of the whole complex, but we are only concerned about our units, so what we'll do is both. We'll get copies of their reports and do our own. Another thing we will do is create resident surveys to get their impression as far as how management is keeping things up."
Mitchell said he heard a lot of resident complaints when first hired, but those complaints have stopped.
BHA Board Chairman Napoleon Mills said he is pleased with the direction Telesis is headed.
"There wasn't any communication from Telesis down to the management company before now," he said. "Now we are at least communicating and it means a lot to see Marilyn here and letting all of the employees know she is here. We need to have that information so we can ask questions when we have them, but I think the communication will be better moving forward."
Mitchell said Melkonian will return in the spring with a presentation on how it will move the relationship with the BHA, the management company and Bradenton Village forward in a positive direction.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.