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Pasco Housing Authority executive director resigns

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DADE CITY — Pasco County Housing Authority Executive Director Dianne Morris resigned Wednesday from the position she held for two years, but no one on the authority will explain what led to her abrupt decision.

“All I know is that (Chairman) David Lambert got a call from her and that she had tendered her resignation,” Commissioner Ed Blommel said. “I don’t know why - she wasn’t at the (Wednesday) meeting.”

Morris’ two-sentence resignation letter offers no insight. It simply confirms that she would continue to receive her six-month severance pay as well as any accrued vacation and sick pay. The authority also will pay for her health insurance for six months.

According to her contract, Morris is only eligible to collect severance pay if the board terminates her before the contract expired this September or if she is permanently disabled or not fit to perform her duties. It takes a vote by three board members to terminate her, but there was no such vote. Agency staff said there have been no charges of misconduct.

The contract states that if Morris had voluntarily resigned, she should give the housing authority 90 days notice “unless the parties agree to a term of lesser duration” and would not be eligible to collect any severance pay.

Neither Lambert nor Morris could be reached for comment.

Morris initially was hired at a $92,000 salary. She received an $8,000 pay raise this year as part of a department-wide program to bring workers’ salaries to market level.

Board attorney Shelly May Johnson said the authority would immediately advertise for a new executive director. She expects the process to take about six months. In the meantime, the board appointed Section 8 Director Linda Wright to serve as interim director.

Morris started in 2012 at a time when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was threatening take over the mismanaged agency and its properties. The job was a homecoming for Morris, who spent a decade as Pasco County’s community development director before leaving in 2002 for a similar job in Virginia.

On her first day, she received a HUD Inspector General’s report that confirmed many of the allegations in a whistleblower lawsuit by a former bookkeeper and three other employees, including charges that former director Karen Turner approved excessive amounts of overtime to an employee with whom she was having an affair. When the story went public, Turner resigned and Gov. Rick Scott replaced the entire Housing Authority board.

Morris later settled the whistleblower cases.

“We’ve moved from what I would consider a ‘troubled housing agency,’ and she helped transform us and take us to the next level,” Blommel said. “There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and Dianne helped us immensely.”

The county expects to hear any day whether it receives a $15 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant that could pay to rebuild much of the public housing stock in Lacoochee.

He said Morris’ departure comes as the authority is on the verge of constructing Hilltop Landings, a new 69-unit complex to replace the flood-prone Dade Oaks Apartments. The Housing Authority closed on the land and a private company from South Florida will manage the construction project.

“We think we’re going to get through this next hurdle without missing a beat,” Blommel said. “We should break ground in September or October.”

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