Leader Blues

Friday, January 12, 2007

TOP STORY >>Jacksonville Housing Authority picks new director

IN SHORT: Board hires special projects manager from the Morgan City Housing Authority in Louisiana.

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Housing Authority Board on Thursday selected Phillip Nix, who lives in Louisiana, as the authority’s new executive director.

“It was a unanimous decision,” said Jim Durham, chairman of the Jacksonville Housing Authority Board. Each interview with the two applicants lasted more than an hour, and it took about 45 minutes of deliberations before we came out of executive session (at Thursday’s board meeting).”

For the past few months, the JHA board sought out applicants who had a working knowledge about the day-to-day operations of the housing authority as well as the methods and terminology used by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Durham expressed his satisfaction in possibly finding not one but two applicants who meet all the requirements addressed in the advertisement, which ran in newspapers and a magazine geared toward professionals in this field last week.

One of the two applicants was Nix, who now serves as a special projects manager for the Morgan City Housing Authority in Louisiana. His career background includes being the executive director for the Lee County Housing Authority in North Fort Myers, Florida, in 2005. He was also a former executive director with the Clay Center Housing Authority in Kansas between 2003 and 2005.

Nix graduated from Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama with a grade point average of 3.9 in 1999. He also possesses a public housing manager certificate as well as other certificates in capital fund program, advanced procurement and contract administration.

Nix’s initial base salary will be $57,000 plus basic benefits, according to Durham.

After completing the steps mapped out in a “memorandum of agreement” by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to obtain its approval, that salary could reach up to $62,000. The memorandum of agreement deals with scheduled tasks needing to be done and/or corrected to get the beleaguered JHA back on track. The timeline goes through August of this year.

The need for a new executive director arose this past summer after HUD initiated a review involving the JHA. The local housing authority oversees the Max Howell Place, a low-income housing complex comprised of 100 units located off Quince Hill Road as well as disbursements involving hundreds of thousands dollars in rental housing vouchers.

While most tenants at the Max Howell Place had to pay for their own window air-conditioners or do without, the salary of Virginia Simmons, the then executive director at JHA, was set at about $50,000. Simmons resigned this past summer and members of the JHA Board of Directors began to follow suit.

The then JHA Board of Directors, which already had one vacant slot, began to crumble as three of its four remaining members resigned. The fourth member ultimately resigned.

In mid-June, the federal agency asked for records of contracts and work orders for more than $132,000 spent by the housing authority. HUD officials wanted to scrutinize all contracts and purchase orders. They also requested those documents to be pulled and made available on June 28.

On June 27, a JHA employee informed HUD that Simmons had directed her to create four contracts and to call contractors to come to the office and sign the contracts.

On the same day, Simmons “admitted to Mr. Jesse Westover, Public Housing director, Little Rock, Field Office, that she had falsely reported program obligation under the FY 2003 Capital Fund Program on Sept. 15, 2005, in the amount of $132,788.11,” according to the HUD review, which found that no application had been made for the grant, making the authority ineligible.

HUD officials concluded that these actions were taken in an attempt on the part of the then executive director to document evidence to support contracts had legitimately been entered into before the obligation deadline of Sept. 26, 2005.
The review also alleges that the housing authority “did not properly advertise for bids in the excess of $25,000” or adequately keep documentation of solicitations.

The new JHA board quickly went to work and completed a bid award for the installations of new air-conditioning units for the entire Max Howell Complex as well as launching a search for a new executive director.

This week, Durham revealed that a possible salary range between $50,000 and $70,000 for the right applicant whose education and experience matches the advertised job’s requirements. A letter written by Durham to Westover, reads, “None of the other applications meet all of the advertised requirements.”

By mid-November, 17 people initially had sent their applications into the City of Jacksonville’s human resources department. Those applications were then turned over to the JHA Board.

At Thursday meetings, the JHA board also approved two resolutions. One implemented a drug-free workplace policy.
“It is identical to the City of Jacksonville’s,” Durham says.

The other dealt with compensating Barbara Boyd, a JHA employee who has been overseeing the facility for the past few months. JHA board members settled upon an additional amount of $3,800.