Bradenton Housing Authority reaches contract terms with new executive director

BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Housing Authority has hired a new executive director.

Ellis Mitchell Jr., currently an assistant executive director with the Queen Anne's County Housing Authority in Maryland, will start at an annual salary of $134,000. The board of directors voted 3-0 Tuesday to approve the three-year contract negotiated by BHA attorney Ric Gilmore.

The board has the option of extending the contract for a fourth and fifth year, and Mitchell's first performance review will take place in six months.

"So at an early stage, you can talk about how you are all feeling as a board as to Mr. Mitchell being your director," Gilmore said.

Mitchell replaces Wenston DeSue, who was fired last year after federal agents raided BHA offices as part of an investigation of alleged financial mismanagement that left the agency with a large debt. No charges have been filed in the ongoing case.

Mitchell reserves the right to terminate the contract at any time with 60 days' notice, and the board reserves the right to terminate the contract without a severance package if it can show termination was necessary due to illegal or immoral actions. The contract also states the board chair can suspend the executive director with or without pay until a public hearing is scheduled to provide an opportunity for the executive director to address charges.

If the board wants to change leadership without cause, it will cost the agency five months of salary as a severance package. The board also agreed to $5,000 in relocation expenses. While 30-day temporary living expenses and a BHA vehicle were offered, Mitchell turned them both down to save expenses.

Board Chairman Napoleon Mills said he has talked with Mitchell.

"He's eager to come and get started. He's agreeable to be here on or before Nov. 30. He realizes there is some work to be done and the sooner he can get started working, the better it will be," Mills said.

Mitchell was not at the meeting and could not be reached for comment.

Agency financial director Darcy Branch has been working as interim director.

Mitchell emerged as the BHA board's top choice after interviews with five finalists last week. Originally, 146 people applied for the job during the national search.

Gilmore said the contract is a good balance of control measures that provides Mitchell what he needs but also gives the board more control than it had in the past.

"What I'm trying to protect is unfortunate situations and give the board as much protection from those situations as possible," Gilmore said. "Whether we like it or not, there is some history and we are trying to move away from that history, so we want all the tools possible to not have negative history repeat itself."

Mills agreed, saying the board needs to have more control and the new executive director needs to bring everything through the board.

"My main interest is the board itself and I want this agency to be above reproach. I want the executive director to realize that wherever he goes, he carries us with him," Mills said.

Gilmore said there still has to a trust factor in allowing an executive director to carry on day-to-day duties.

"But you can't abdicate your share responsibilities. We'll continue to talk about what is your proper role and get back into a role where people can't accuse you of not having obtained enough information about what's going on. You don't get paid for doing this, but that doesn't change your responsibility."

Bradenton City Councilman Gene Brown, the city's liaison to the BHA, said the transparency of the process has been appreciated, as has the board's willingness, as volunteers, to weather the storm to reach this point.

"One of the most important things is you can't look back," Brown said. "The great thing is that we are going forward. You can't change the past, but you can learn from it."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.