Housing Authority makeover complete

The previous four-member board had been asked to resign, but Steve Zeledon chose to fight that request.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published December 19, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - City Council has completed its second sweep of changes on the Brooksville Housing Authority board and has built a new board of local professionals largely hand-picked by Mayor David Pugh.

Pugh presented his case for the removal of Steve Zeledon from the board of commissioners of the housing authority Monday night. Of the four board members Pugh has asked to resign, Zeledon was the only one who chose to fight his removal.

The mayor charged Zeledon with being ineffective or negligent in his duties. Pugh said Zeledon had allowed or engaged in disruptive behavior during meetings of the housing board, failed to maintain the proper financial records, failed to implement appropriate recruitment or hiring procedures for the authority's executive director and staff and failed to provide proper public notice of authority meetings and agenda items.

Pugh detailed infighting by the board members, the lack of an approved budget for the authority, the board's failure to advertise properly for an executive director and the board's failure to specify its intent to make its temporary executive director permanent on a meeting agenda.

Zeledon said former board member Paul Douglas caused the meeting disruptions and said comments by former board members about their safety were "trumped up concerns."

He said that authority's financial condition was a mess when he came on the board earlier this year. Records, checks and meeting minutes were missing and the authority owed more than $400,000. "We had no money. We had no assets," Zeledon said.

Zeledon also argued that the authority board did not have specific HUD rules to follow in hiring their executive director and that their decision to make Ronnie McLean permanent in that job came up under an advertised discussion by the board's personnel committee.

"I believe this board is moving quickly to resolve the problems created by the previous director and her staff," Zeledon said, referring to former director Betty Trent and former program director Joe Ann Bennett, who have both been convicted of stealing federal money.

Council member Joe Bernardini questioned Zeledon's support for McLean despite ongoing questions about his veracity on several issues. After ongoing problems with the authority, Bernardini said the City Council wanted a "squeaky clean board and executive director."

Pugh then recommended that the council remove Zeledon and the council voted 4 to 1 to do that, with Richard Lewis casting the lone no vote.

As the council members discussed McLean, Lewis warned that the council should not give the impression that they were interfering with the housing authority's responsibilities, which include hiring a director.

The City Council's only job by law was to concur or not concur with the mayor's recommendations to appoint and to remove housing board members.

Lewis said he favored having the city turn the housing authority over to some other entity to run, an idea Bernardini supported. That discussion continued later when Pugh presented a slate of new authority board members, which were unanimously approved by the City Council.

Those proposed board members were Cliff Manuel, Jr., a civil engineer with Coastal Engineering; real estate agent Gary Schraut; Francine Ward of Mid-Florida Community Services Inc.; accountant Randy Woodruff; and Brian Adair, self-employed in electronics. Adair has applied previously for a slot on the board.

Pugh said he recruited the other four people to step into the job and take care of the short term needs of the authority. He said he picked professionals who were known to the city and who the city had worked with before.

Council member Lara Bradburn said she wanted to "give them clear direction" and that direction was to see someone else take over the responsibility for the authority.

"We've all said in discussions that we want changes," Bernardini said. "I hope they understand the direction this council wants to go."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.