When Nobody’s Home at the Housing Authority

via @JDeLeon1012 on Twitter

One of the more interesting assignments I had was covering the Bradenton Housing Authority after a federal raid and investigation.

At the time of the raid, the paper hadn’t regularly covered the BHA meetings for at least a year, thanks to layoffs and cuts. I was asked to cover what was going on to assist a rookie reporter and the crime desk. The crime desk covered the initial raid and as the crime beat picked up with activity, I had to take the BHA over full time until another city reporter was hired, who has since then dutifully covered the beat. Mark Young has done a great job when he came on and I was very thankful he could tackle the beat as the Mall at University Town Center and another huge land development, Lake Flores, were about to consume my beat again.

What I found was a public board that was complacent by saying yes to everything by the executive director, signing off on policies without looking at them or fully understanding them and either ignorance or apathy. And for the longest time, denial, until a few of the members came around and realized what happened.

The interim director, who was the authority’s financial director, revealed later she was the whistleblower, but the question was always why did she allow this to go on for so long and not alert anyone else? The inflated salaries for staff certainly helped keep folks quiet. The interim director was also looking for a raise from her financial director salary.

Eventually she resigned for medical reasons and so did another official making $130,000 a year. The agency saved salaries from both of them and paid an experienced director $130,000 to lead it back on track. The new director also pointed out the bias and flaws in a salary study completed under the interim director’s watch.

I filed plenty of FOIAs for this one, some still awaiting to be fulfilled because of the ongoing investigation through HUD-OIG. Just getting coherent information and documentation from the Housing Authority was a mighty struggle, where I had to rely on experts from other housing authorities to verify what I was seeing.

I tracked down the main players, who of course, weren’t willing to talk. My work also grabbed the attention of a U.S. Senator who is known for making a stink over housing authority scandals–mainly pointing out that in one way or another the federal oversight is broken. And the various state and local laws make it difficult to find a solution.

Here are the highlights of my Housing Authority coverage:

OCTOBER 6, 2013

Bradenton Housing Authority a boon for DeSues; investigation may end that

For nearly 20 years, a DeSue has been in charge of the Bradenton Housing Authority serving the area’s poorest residents.

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