Housing authority director: Nothing wrong with travel

Housing authority officials spent more than $20,000 on hotels, transportation and conferences in the last 16 months.

That total was compiled from agency expense reports obtained and analyzed by The Capital. It excludes payments to other housing organizations, such as more than $5,000 to the Maryland Society for Human Resource Management State Council.

Expenses stem from training costs and trips by management, including Executive Director Vince Leggett. The agency’s capital fund — money mainly used for repairing units — paid for the excursions.

The total made up about 1 percent of the agency’s federal capital funding. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allows agencies to use up to 10 percent of capital money for management improvements, which can include training and related travel.

HUD encourages administrators to attend training seminars, said Leggett, who believes the expenses were appropriate.

“When I’m at one of these professional events, it’s not just me and the janitor there. The hall is full,” he said.

The Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis reported a deficit for most of fiscal 2014. The agency — which received less federal subsidy from HUD than in years past — ended the year with a $353 surplus, according to its records.

Housing authority officials are considering outsourcing maintenance costs and having residents contribute to water bills to save money. Leggett and agency commissioners have asked the city to help fund some services for housing authority residents.

The agency spent $20,984 in total expenses for staff and commissioners in fiscal 2014, according to its records. In fiscal 2013, the agency spent $34,375; in fiscal 2012, $28,482.

Other expenses listed in agency reports include office supplies, food and consulting.

Leggett attended four conferences this year, three of them out of state. Agency records indicate he attended the National Resident Services and Resident Leaders’ Conference in Atlanta from Sept. 17 to 20 and the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association Annual Convention in New Orleans from May 29 to June 3.

Other trips included the Maryland Association of Housing and Redevelopment Agencies Spring Caucus in Ocean City from April 2 to 4 and the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association Commissioners’ Conference in Orlando, Florida, from Jan. 9 to 15.

Leggett said the agency’s board of commissioners explicitly approved travel in his contract as part of “professional development activities.”

Leggett’s expenses were approved by Joe Johnson, the housing authority’s chief of staff. Johnson, who works for Leggett, said he does not have the authority to approve or deny Leggett’s expenses and adds his signature to the agency’s “Request for Check” form as a matter of protocol.

“If he requests it, I simply sign it,” Johnson said.

Leggett said he informs the board of travel expenses, and vice versa.

Housing authority commissioners also used agency funds for travel, hotel and meal expenses. Five commissioners — Carl Snowden, Jeffrey Henderson, Cynthia Carter, Deborah Johnson and Jacquelyn Wells — attended the Maryland Association of Housing and Redevelopment Agencies’ spring conference in Ocean City, according to housing authority records.

The commissioners stayed at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel, according to agency records. The Ocean City hotel hosted the event.

The housing authority paid $3,371 for hotel costs during the conference, according to agency records. Commissioners received $345 each for hotel costs and ethics training.

Other agency expenses included $540 in hotel costs at the Hilton Baltimore from Oct. 15 to 17. The hotel expenses were for a two-day conference hosted in Baltimore, Leggett said. He spoke on a panel about the housing authority’s efforts on health programs and resident self-sufficiency, and rented a room to stay overnight.

The majority of housing authority expenses, Leggett said, are for training and do not make up a large part of the agency’s capital budget.

“Bricks and sticks are the predominant use of capital money,” he said.

Article source: http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/annapolis/ph-ac-cn-housing-day-1-expenses-20141130,0,1263622.story