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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014

Homeless program leader quits in wake of ‘Hoe’ Brown scandal

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TAMPA — The manager of Hillsborough County’s Homeless Recovery Program resigned Monday after it was disclosed the department paid more than $625,000 to Republican fund raiser William “Hoe” Brown to house clients in substandard apartments.

James Silverwood, 49, who has worked for the county since 1989, quit just days after County Administrator Mike Merrill announced he was revamping the homeless program and moving it to a different county department.

Merrill said he could not comment on Silverwood’s departure or the status of the county’s homeless program because he’s having it audited.

“Once the audit is finalized and all information is known, I will be able to address your questions,” Merrill said in a written statement. “Pending the findings of the audit, I may take additional action.”

Silverwood, who was making $72,217 a year, could not be reached for comment.

The homeless program provides rental assistance and case management in an effort to help individuals and families become self-sufficient and find permanent homes. The services are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the program’s office, 2410 N. Tampa St.

In a Friday memo to county commissioners, Merrill said the homeless program needed to be restructured due to “direct referrals” of homeless clients to Brown’s properties over a 16-year period. Merrill said that, while the placement of homeless people is ultimately their own decision, the county has been referring them to residences based on past relationships, such as one with Brown.

“That practice has been stopped as of today,” Merrill wrote in the Friday memo. “Rather specific procedures are being developed to address tenant placement.”

Merrill said once he heard through media requests that the homeless program had problems, he took “immediate action,” which included ordering the audit and having code enforcement check properties before they are rented to homeless people. He also moved the program from Family and Aging Services to the Affordable Housing Department.

For years, county employees referred homeless individuals and families to Brown’s substandard apartments in trailers and a small hotel in Seminole Heights. The apartments in pre-fabricated buildings were declared “unfit for human habitation” by Tampa code enforcement officers July 9 and condemned the next day. Brown has since removed them.

The hotel has been ticketed by code enforcement officers 14 times in the past 10 years. Citations ranged from derelict cars to apartments with no smoke detectors. Code officers described the hotel as a deteriorated structure.

A spokeswoman said at the time that Brown, then a Republican Party fundraiser and a member of the Tampa Port Authority, had made a mistake. Brown resigned his position on the port authority and as a Republican state committeeman in the wake of the scandal.

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said he he doesn’t blame Merrill for ignorance and inaction regarding the the long-time payments to Brown.

“It’s impossible to keep track of everything,” Higginbotham said, “but it’s disturbing to everyone in the community. Mike Merrill, as administrator, can take immediate action, which he has done, to remedy the problems.”

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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