Housing Authority’s troubled past affects current concerns

The Las Vegas Housing Authority first formed in 1947 actually no longer exists. It’s been merged into the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority.

The Las Vegas Housing Authority’s history, however, is one of mismanagement since the mid-1980s, if not before. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has audited it repeatedly and found stomach-turning violations.

Executive directors seldom left with their reputations intact.

Arthur Sartini headed the agency for 17 years until he was fired in 1989. One reason for his firing: nearly $10 million in overcharges, illegal charges, misallocated funds and unnecessary administrative costs.

The whistleblower who brought Sartini down was housing authority employee Mary Plaud. She said Sartini was hiring his relatives (which was true), overcharging for appliances (also true) and overcharging rent (again, true).

HUD’s report in 1989 confirmed what Plaud said. She later won a $400,000 settlement after she was harassed for her whistleblowing.

In 1990, Carl Rowe followed Sartini as executive director. On his watch, Madison Terrace was closed after tenants turned to the Las Vegas City Council complaining of roach infestation and neglect. Also under his administration, HUD said the authority failed to fulfill a 1991 desegregation agreement. HUD found the authority misused federal tax dollars on $1,000-a-plate charity dinners, luxury cars and other uncalled-for expenses such as $20,000 worth of cell phone calls over six months. In 1994, HUD found 15 violations including improper housing, unjustified expenditures and improper pay raises.

Yet at the same time, the authority couldn’t pay off a nearly $7 million federal debt.

Rowe resigned in 1994 and was replaced by Frederick Brown.

The next scandal was exposed in 2002. Brown had hired then-Clark County Commissioner Dario Herrera, paying him $50,000 as a public relations consultant. The authority’s procurement policy required competitive bids for anything over $25,000 but Brown hadn’t bothered with a contract. It didn’t become public until Herrera was running for Congress. He lost.

Brown, didn’t inform the housing authority commissioners he had hired the county commissioner as his adviser. Brown died in 2002. In 2003, HUD determined there was no proof Herrera had done any work for the $50,000.

By that time Herrera had been indicted for political corruption, not for his no-work housing authority contract, but for taking bribes from a strip club owner.

Parviz Ghardiri had been with the authority 17 years when he replaced Brown. He left after another HUD audit found violations dealing with how the authority awarded contracts, such as one that went from $50,000 to $300,000 without proper authorization.

In 2006, Rowe was rehired, but failed to get the top job when the merger combined the three housing authorities in 2010.

Instead, John Hill was hired as executive director. Unlike Rowe, who had no housing authority experience when he was first hired, Hill has worked for 20 years with housing authorities.

Today, there is a nine-person board charged with fiscal responsibility and oversight for the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority. The chairman of the board is Dave Casaleggio, first appointed to the Las Vegas Housing Authority in 2006.

“The best motion I ever made was to refuse to renew his (Ghardiri’s) contract,” Casaleggio said. He believes the authority can no longer be considered troubled. “When I first came on it was a troubled agency.”

Hill said he has kept the board aware of the recent complaints raised against the housing authority by activists Beatrice Turner, Deborah Jackson and Beverly Hannon, which I wrote about in Thursday’s column.

Hill said their complaints are unfounded or based on misinformation, but history has shown that it takes years to sort out allegations involving housing authority agencies.

Could Hill be the exception to the disturbing pattern of mismanagement at local housing authorities?

Hope springs eternal.

But since Thursday’s column ran, I’ve been hearing from unhappy residents. More about that Monday.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.

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