Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have begun a comprehensive assessment of the Pasco County Housing Authority, a HUD spokeswoman said today.
Gloria Shanahan said allegations made in a lawsuit filed by a former employee gave the federal agency reason to evaluate the housing authority's operations, finances and program management.
"Our immediate action is to request that the Pasco County Housing Authority Board of Commissioners engage a third party to investigate the allegations," Shanahan said in an email. "We will refer the allegations to HUD's Office of Inspector General."
The authority's executive director, Karen Turner, resigned last week and employee Linda Wright has been appointed interim director.
In a lawsuit filed in February, former employee Maggie Taffs contends she was fired in retaliation for reporting misconduct at the housing authority. In letters attached to the complaint, Taffs complained about Turner's management and accused her of having sex in the office.
Taffs contends an employee received unearned overtime payments in 2008 totaling more than $20,000. She also alleges that a housing inspector solicited a $50 bribe from a landlord to approve a rental unit for leasing.
Additionally, Taffs claims the housing authority continued paying a landlord rent even though the tenant had been terminated by the authority some four years earlier. That cost the agency an extra $24,725, the lawsuit states.
Turner denied the allegations at a meeting last month, as did the authority's three commissioners.
"There has been no wrongdoing at the housing authority," Turner said Aug. 23.
Board Chairwoman Regina Mirabella and board attorney Shelly Johnson couldn't be reached for comment today. They previously said Taffs' accusations were taken seriously when they surfaced but were found to be without merit.
The housing authority is an independent agency responsible for managing the county's low-income housing and housing assistance programs. It manages 12 communities throughout the county and is responsible for more than 2,000 units.
The agency is funded mostly by tenant rents and federal subsidies. Five volunteer commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, oversee the authority. Currently, the board is operating with only three commissioners.
At a meeting today, the Pasco County Commission continued to discuss the possibility of assuming oversight of the housing authority board. Local legislators have pledged to introduce bills in the upcoming session that would allow that to happen.
At a minimum, county commissioners want the ability to appoint housing authority board members.
"It would continue to be a separate governing body, but the members would be appointed by you and not the governor," said George Romagnoli, the county's community development director.
"HUD is on site now," Romagnoli said. "They want to get an experienced person in place to turn this situation around."