2011-11-10 / News

Search for housing authority chief underway

BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Ernest Anthony, chairman of the Jamestown Housing Authority’s board, said this week a new executive director could be on the job by the beginning of the year.

The board has hired a search consultant, Leo Dauwer of Dauwer Associates in Needham, Mass., to help with the hiring process, Anthony said. Dauwer will review resumes, vet the applicants and recommend the top candidates. No official decision has been made yet, he said, on whether Dauwer will participate in the interviews. The commissioners have discussed the possibility, Anthony said, but have not yet taken a vote.

So far, Anthony said, 10 people have applied for the post, which became vacant when former executive director Ron DuPont resigned in September.

Anthony said he was satisfied with the number of responses and the search consultant’s progress. He said allowing for the holiday interruptions and the standard two weeks’ notice, the board is on track to hire someone to start around Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, Richard Leco, an interim director, is overseeing dayto day operations at the Pemberton Avenue and Pemberton Place apartment complex.

Leco, who took charge Oct. 13, is president of D&V Associates of South Attleboro, Mass.; his consulting firm works with housing authorities by providing temporary staff, developing policies and programs, and conducting executive searches, he said.

“I was asked by the search consulting firm to come in,” he said. “I’m here three to four days a week, catching up with [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] and keeping our heads above water.”

Leco said he has the situation in hand and added that between the time DuPont left and he arrived, nothing “major” has come up.

“Nothing we can’t work around,” he said. “It’s just a little hiccup in the process because it’s a daily process for public housing.”

Leco said there had been no disruption for new tenants who wanted to move into public housing.

“That’s not a problem,” he said. “We do have one vacancy, and we have a person waiting.” Leco said the wait for an apartment is about 18 months.

During his first month on the job, he has met some of the residents, he said. He also organized a meet and greet for the tenants and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

He also shepherded the housing authority through a HUD property inspection.

“I haven’t gotten the scores, but I’m sure we did very well,” he said. “Things are going well. Things are starting to smooth out.”

Leco said he is enjoying his stint on the island.

“The board’s been very supportive,” he said. “The tenants have been terrific. I’m having a lot of fun.”

In addition to his management duties, Leco also will give the housing commissioners his opinion about operations and about future staffing options, he said.

Leco anticipates cuts in federal funding for public housing. He serves as chairman of the National Association of the Housing and Redevelopment Officials and has been monitoring appropriations bills in Congress.

“We could be looking at 10 percent to 30 percent cuts on top of what we’ve already taken,” he said. In analyzing ways the Jamestown Housing Authority could absorb that kind of hit, he said he would look at the JHA organizational structure and consider ways to save, such as energy costs, opportunities to consolidate, and places to cut, such as staffing.

Leco is working without an offi ce staff because the two full-time employees vacated their posts in September when DuPont left, he said.

Their jobs could be replaced by new hires or by consultants. He also said that hiring two part-time employees, instead of full time, would also be an option.

“There’s a lot of possibilities,” he said, and the board would likely take the residents’ needs into consideration when they decide.

“The board is very supportive of resident services,” he said.

Leco said he believed the two full-time employees had left the housing authority in mid-September.

“My understanding is, they both resigned,” he said. Leco added that he didn’t know “what took place” before he arrived.

(DuPont had resigned amid some controversy, citing interference from one commissioner in his management of a family member. He did not name individuals, but Anthony was the commissioner in question and the family member, his son Brian, is in charge of maintenance at the Jamestown Housing Authority.)

“Coming in with an objective eye, the facility is in excellent shape,” Leco said. “Maintenance has done an excellent job.” He said Brian Anthony had shown “real interest and concern for the residents,” and the desire to help people makes all the difference.

“It’s key for anybody,” he said. ”They can have degrees up and down their arms, but if they don’t have compassion, they’re not going to succeed.”

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