Since raiding the offices of the Bradenton Housing Authority 10 months ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has kept progress of the inspector general's investigation into possible fraud from public view, per standard operating procedure.
That continues to leave the housing authority in limbo, unsure what the future holds as it advances the process of selecting a new executive director.
The acting executive director deserves a fair and impartial opportunity to become the permanent leader of the agency as it continues to recover from scandal under the previous administration, in which she played a key role as finance director.
Darcy Branch publicly revealed last week that she was the whistleblower that prompted the HUD probe, which in turn prompted the BHA board to fire Wenston DeSue from his post leading the agency.
But with HUD's investigation ongoing and the scope unknown, the public and BHA board cannot fully vet Branch, though there is no indication of any involvement in the financial scandal.
As a whistleblower, Branch now fears board retaliation, which would be shortsighted and misguided. The idea that Branch should have violated HUD's secrecy order to inform the BHA board of the investigation -- as expressed by long-time board member Lois Gerber -- is out of line.
A Gerber email to Branch contains additional indecorous statements, calling the interim director's actions "self-serving and inappropriate. You protected yourselves and threw us (the board) to the wolves. I have little sympathy for you ... If the board hires you, I will resign."
Such irresponsible remarks reflect poorly on the board.
And with that statement, there's little wonder that Branch fears retribution -- for doing the right thing. The public already knows the board was complicit in DeSue's actions, routinely approving his proposals, which plunged the agency into more than $500,000 in debt over two years.
As finance director under DeSue, Branch witnessed some of his misdeeds and informed HUD, as she should have. The BHA board does not have the investigative tools or power of a federal agency. DeSue is under a criminal investigation.
Branch first contacted HUD some two years ago, she told the board. When federal investigators raided BHA offices in September 2013, the probe became public.
The BHA board allowed DeSue overly broad latitude and little oversight, and he would hide details about policies, manipulating the panel and closing the doors to the public during meetings.
The board deserved the initial public scorn, but is working diligently to right the ship. Gerber's views of Branch are a step backwards.
Early this year the board revoked DeSue's plunderous policies, instituting austerity and committing to transparency. Those positive developments will help build public trust in the agency as will the national search for a new executive director.
A longtime BHA employee, Branch deserves every consideration for the post -- and not a rebuke from a board member for not breaking a HUD order, and possibly compromising the investigation.
According to Branch, HUD gave her permission to tell the board of her whistleblower status in May as she became increasingly criticized for not taking measures to thwart DeSue. She took appropriate action.
BHA board chair Napoleon Mills took a far different and sympathetic tone in Herald urban affairs reporter Mark Young's article last week detailing Branch's whistleblower status: "... I have an open mind and honestly didn't know it was Darcy. Wow, what a burden she has had to carry through all of this in having to remain silent."
The BHA board should have clarity on the HUD investigation before hiring a permanent executive director. Outside job candidates, Branch and the public should be fully informed, too.