New Alachua County Housing Authority director to take helm Thursday


Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 9:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 9:11 p.m.

The Alachua County Housing Authority will welcome a new executive director to his first day of work Thursday with the hope that he will last much longer than its last hire, who resigned on his second day.

Herbert Hernandez, former executive director of the Lakeland Housing Authority, agreed Monday during a special meeting of ACHA’s board of commissioners to take the job as head of the organization. The agreement followed two weeks of negotiations, during which commissioners debated several of Hernandez’s requests regarding vacation time and other benefits.

Hernandez was fired from the Lakeland Housing Authority in June 2011 in what he has previously termed a politically motivated and unjustified move. He has since focused on managing rental properties he owns in the Lakeland and Cocoa Beach areas, as well as in Virginia.

At Monday’s meeting, Hernandez’s severance package was one of the final issues the board had left to discuss before completing the contract. Hernandez had requested he receive, if terminated, his unvested retirement funding in addition to the rest of his severance.

Under ACHA policy, both the employee and the employer contribute money to a worker’s retirement fund. During the first year of employment, an employee can receive 50 percent of the employer’s contribution, which is his or her vested portion, upon leaving — a figure that gradually increases over the period of employment to 100 percent-vested at five years.

Hernandez wanted to receive the full 100 percent even if he was terminated before that five-year threshold.

Chairman Kali Blount likened the amount of time Hernandez and the board were spending on negotiating how to handle the hypothetical situation to spending more time on a couple’s prenuptial agreement rather than on planning the actual wedding.

Commissioner Stephanie Seawright, who said she considered the severance request “excessive,” said it seemed like Hernandez was trying to see what concessions he could gain because he thought he was ACHA’s only hope.

“I think we’re spending too much time with this when we’ve got business to take care of,” she said.

Hernandez offered to work under ACHA’s contract for four months, at which point the board could evaluate his performance and decide either to accept his terms, which included the retirement request, or to part ways amicably.

Seawright said she considered four months unacceptable, saying it seemed the commission was being asked to give a lot while he wasn’t giving enough. Hernandez countered that he was getting “very little” of what he asked for, which was why he suggested the four-month review plan.

Commissioner Sheldon Packer suggested increasing that evaluation period to one year. He also pointed out that the contract ACHA initially offered Hernandez was similar to ones for Bernard Wells, its most recent and short-lived executive director, and Gail Monahan, who led the organization for four decades.

Hernandez said he wouldn’t consider the one-year proposition, but would go up to six months.

“I know that I can’t live with what is on the table right now,” he said.

Blount said the four-month suggestion was unattractive to commissioners because it would open the possibility that ACHA could soon be in need of, yet again, a new executive director.

The board ultimately approved Hernandez’s request that he receive the unvested portion of his retirement fund upon termination, scrapping the idea of a four- or six-month evaluation period. Packer said making the concession was worth it in the end, particularly since Hernandez’s severance pay cannot exceed 20 weeks compensation under state law.

Hernandez was hired at an annual salary of $90,000, up from the $87,000 stipulated in a previous version of the contract.

While he waited to sign the contract after the meeting, Hernandez pointed out that the best negotiations are those in which both parties walk away a little disappointed.

He said he plans to build on ACHA’s existing successes and focus on the positive, but he is also prepared to address the housing authority’s problem areas.

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report from July 2012 cited lax financial oversight within ACHA. Hernandez said he plans to address HUD’s remaining concerns immediately so the organization can move on.

“If everything was running smoothly,” he said, “they wouldn’t need me.”

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

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