Board scours contract for new Housing Authority candidate


Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.

The Alachua County Housing Authority needs an executive director since its original hire abruptly left the position after two days on the job, but that doesn't mean the authority's commissioners are willing to accept the new candidate's requests without scrutiny.

ACHA's board of commissioners debated controversial portions of a draft contract for Herbert Hernandez, the former executive director of the Lakeland Housing Authority, at its Wednesday meeting.

Hernandez would take over the position as the successor to recently retired and longtime leader Gail Monahan. Bernard Wells, the initial hire for the job, quit on his second day of work in January.

The board approved an updated version of the draft contract Wednesday, which would run through Sept. 31, 2014, and offer an $87,000 annual salary. That salary is in the same neighborhood as the one established for Wells, Chairman Kali Blount said.

The board debated several provisions in the contract at its Wednesday meeting, including whether to grant Hernandez's request to change ACHA policy in order to require four of the five commissioners' votes in order to oust him from his position.

Commissioner Sheldon Packer questioned the need to alter the board's operating procedure, in which a majority of at least three votes rules. He said Hernandez likely requested the higher threshold due to his experience in Lakeland, where he was fired in June 2011 in what he told the Gainesville Housing Authority, when it was considering him in late 2011, was a politically motivated and unjustified move — an assertion his references confirmed.

“We do not need a super-majority to run our business,” Packer said.

Blount countered that he would like to grant Hernandez some of his requests since they had already overruled a couple. He said prolonging negotiations by wrestling over a few points could lead Hernandez and ACHA to begin a professional relationship with an unwanted “gotcha feeling.”

The commissioners agreed overall that the board would likely vote unanimously to fire the executive director if his performance deemed such a firing necessary.

The board ultimately let the motion stand, with Packer stating it would give Hernandez a sense of security given his previous experience.

The board struck from the draft contract, however, a different stipulation, which made Hernandez eligible for an annual bonus of up to 7 percent. The board voted in favor of a more generic policy in which he would be considered for a possible but unspecified bonus.

The board left Hernandez's request to receive an annual cost-of-living increase in the contract, permitting him to receive one based on the Social Security COLA allowance if it is offered each year.

Packer said a few of Hernandez's suggestions for the draft contract asked too much for an “untested employee” and might be more appropriate later on in the course of his employment.

The board also removed a paragraph that would reimburse him for up to $400 a month in disability benefits for health problems outside the scope of worker's compensation. Additionally, it reduced his vacation allowance from 20 business days to the ACHA standard of 12 business days.

Hernandez's severance package was another point of debate, which Commissioner Stephanie Seawright called “excessive.” The draft contract offered four months of severance benefits after Hernandez completed his first four months of work and one month for every three months worked from that point on, for a maximum of 12 months in benefits.

The board altered the contract to reduce that allowance to one month's severance for every four months worked, with a maximum of either 26 weeks (or 6 months) or the statutory cap if it is lower than that threshold.

Blount pointed out during the meeting that both Hernandez and the ACHA board were being cautious with their stipulations regarding issues like severance in this negotiation given their past experiences — Hernandez with his problems at the Lakeland Housing Authority and ACHA with the sudden departure of its original hire.

“He's in that once-bitten, twice-shy position,” Blount said. “We're in that position from having someone fly away all of a sudden.”

The contract is subject to approval by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, so it could change due to HUD's rules or during negotiations with Hernandez.

The board hopes to finalize a deal with Hernandez as quickly as possible — perhaps as soon as Friday.

At Wednesday's meeting, it also approved a COLA increase of 2 percent starting April 1 for full-time ACHA employees who have worked there for at least one year.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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