HUD official: Board can’t pay its director while on leave

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 7, 2001

FERRIDAY, La. – The Ferriday Housing Authority board’s decision to place the authority’s director on leave with pay violates federal guidelines, a federal housing official has told the board’s chairman.

On Wednesday, the board voted 3-1 to place Executive Director Charles Bell on administrative leave with pay – pending HUD’s approval – following allegations that he misspent $218,169 in public funds.

But in a letter written Friday to board Chairman Sammy Davis Jr., Chet Drozdowski, director of HUD’s Office of Public Housing in New Orleans, stated that the board could not take such an action.

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HUD’s New Orleans office sent Bell a letter July 26 barring him from participating in any of HUD’s public housing programs for one year. Bell has until Aug. 25 to appeal the decision in writing.

But as a result of the decision, Bell &uot;may not be compensated by using HUD funds&uot; during that year,&160;Drozdowski wrote. &uot;Therefore, the action taken by the board … to place Mr. Bell on administrative leave with pay is in violation of federal guidelines.&uot;

The board is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the authority’s office on Louisiana 15. Last Wednesday, Davis was the only member of the board to vote against placing Bell on leave, later saying Bell should have been fired.

But on Monday, Davis would not say what, if any, recommendation he would make in this Wednesday’s meeting regarding Bell’s job status. &uot;We shall see what we shall see,&uot;&160;Davis said.

Davis did state that the majority of funds used for the operation of the Housing Authority come from HUD. &uot;The only other money the authority gets is from when people come in to pay their rent,&uot;&160;he said. But figures to that effect were not available as of press time Monday.

Authority Commissioner Clarence Hymon, who made the motion to place Bell on leave with pay pending HUD approval, had no comment on HUD’s latest letter.

&uot;I can’t comment on it because I&160;haven’t seen it,&uot;&160;Hymon said of the letter. &uot;It’s news to me.&uot;

Bell and authority commissioners Marguerite Hayes and Richard Washington could not be reached for comment Monday. Drozdowski also could not be reached for comment.

The legislative auditor’s report stated that Bell allegedly used the money to pay for a variety of goods and services, from a new air conditioning system for his house and airplane tickets to clothing and adult online services.

To date, Bell has not been charged with a crime. But the U.S. Attorney’s and District Attorney’s offices are currently reviewing the report to see what charges – if any – will be filed against Bell.

Bell, who has served as the authority’s director since August 1992, is paid more than $26,000 a year from the authority’s budget of more than $3 million.

The authority owns and operates two apartment complexes with a total of 68 units, as well as five rental properties and one commercial building.