tampabay.com

Housing agency needs a leader - now

By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published May 4, 2007


Paul Boston and Gertrude Mobley serve on the embattled Brooksville Housing Authority. They see themselves as fighting for the city's public housing tenants. That's where agreement ends.

Mobley is a former public housing tenant who now chairs the agency's board. Boston can be regarded as the Al Sharpton of Brooksville. He calls Mobley a figurehead. She sees him as a relative newcomer who is uneducated in how Brooksville works. The chemistry between them is combustible.

Their stylistic and ideological clash begs the question: Which is the better approach for improving the lives of the public housing tenants they are supposed to represent?

Despite the indictment and ouster of the Housing Authority's executive director Betty Trent and former program manager Joe Ann Bennett, Mobley thinks the agency is well-run. She says she remains on the board, where she has served for more than 10 years, to serve families who have no choice but to live in public housing.

"I know where that place has come from, " Mobley said.

Boston was appointed to the Housing Authority board two years ago to fill an unexpired term. His term ends in October, but he doesn't think they'll have him back. He's a troublemaker. You talk to him and his frustration boils over. He believes the elderly in Summit Villas and the poor families at Hillside Estates deserve better than years of shoddy maintenance.

"We are dealing with people who are at the back of the line, " he said.

Clearly, both Mobley and Boston care about public housing tenants. But both see each other as part of the problem.

She served on the board when Trent and Bennett ran the day-to-day operations of the agency. Despite the bad federal audits, mishandled projects and criminal charges, she still thinks Trent did a great job. Mobley believes in Trent's innocence. She said a majority of board members and many tenants would welcome back the ousted director.

And Bennett's guilty plea?

Mobley and many of those same board members believe Bennett pleaded guilty only because her husband was dying. That makes Boston's blood boil.

But nowhere is the difference between Mobley and Boston more stark than in their attitudes toward the next step - the future of the housing agency.

Mobley doesn't want to rush to hire a new director - as long as Trent hasn't been tried or convicted. But Boston has been pushing for new leadership since Trent was suspended last fall. Hernando County housing director Donnie Singer was filling in temporarily, but quit recently because the job was too time-consuming.

With all the electrical problems at Summit Villas and the financial issues facing the agency, the board needs to find a qualified and trustworthy director to set things right - now.

But first, Boston would like to see the entire Housing Authority board replaced. Although the Brooksville City Council recently balked at that idea, there is hope for change. The terms of three of the seven board members - Helen Fleming, Carl Pilcher and Allen Rhodes - expire this month.

The city is accepting applications until May 11. Smart, civic-minded people who care about those stuck on the other side of the tracks should step forward to rescue this foundering agency. That's one thing Mobley and Boston can certainly agree on.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.