After a three-hour closed executive session Wednesday, Housing Authority of Salt Lake City commissioners unanimously accepted the resignation of Executive Director Bill Nighswonger.
Nighwonger has directed the agency since August 2007. In a short statement Wednesday, he announced that he would step down due to personal reasons. He declined to elaborate.
The board named Deputy Director Terry Feveryear as its new top executive. Her first act was to retain Nighswonger as director of development.
"We’ve grown immensely with new properties and that equates to new revenues, and his passion is development," Feveryear said, adding that she welcomed the opportunity to take the helm.
"I’ve been with this agency for thirty years," Feveryear said. "My passion is providing affordable housing. I like beautiful housing for low-income people and I like to see seniors have the ability to buy food and medication because they can afford the rent."
The leadership change follows an April audit conducted by Sacramento-based Citygate Associates LLC, which criticized the agency for lacking a clear and cohesive vision.
Responsibilities of the executive director and the deputy director "are out of balance," the audit said, with most day-to-day work delegated to Feveryear. It recommended that the executive director accept much more of that oversight and be evaluated within 90 days.
The audit also revealed irregularities in how the agency’s employees were promoted, which it said undermined workforce morale. The agency also needed to improve communication and grievance procedures, it said.
The audit also urged the agency to adopt a clearly defined transparency policy and to place full meeting agenda packets online every month.
To Nighswonger’s credit, Citygate reported that the agency is in sound financial condition, with a $32 million annual budget. However, the audit recommended installing a formal budget process that would allow for input from area residents and leaders.
The agency, created in 1970, provides federal rent subsidies and affordable housing to low-income residents of Salt Lake City. It was in turmoil when Nighswonger took over, with his predecessor convicted of one felony count of health-care fraud for keeping her ex-husband on her benefit plan eight years after they’d divorced.
The insurance company actually received more in premiums for Rosemary Kappes’ husband than it paid out on his behalf. She had no other run-ins with the law but was barred from any further interactions with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Nighswonger’s tenure was marred by the 2010 death of military veteran Roy Cohoe, a resident of Sunrise Metro Apartments who died in his apartment. His children have sued, alleging his extreme alcohol poisoning could have been prevented by emergency aid.
In September 2011, The Department of Veteran Affairs said that the housing agency was endangering the health and safety of veterans at Sunrise Metro and Valor Apartments by withholding information about them. Steven Young, director of the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center, called for a culture change and cultivation of an open, transparent and collaborative relationship between the V.A. and housing authority.
After Sunrise Metro opened in March 2007, the 100-unit complex was plagued by high staff turnover and crime. The agency made staffing changes, and while management and living conditions have improved dramatically, the audit advised the Housing Authority to contract with outside homeless service experts to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Michael Clara, vice chairman of the Housing Authority’s seven-member commission, said Wednesday’s changes capitalize on people’s strengths. While Nighswonger shines in developing properties from the ground up, Feveryear excels in dealing with elected officials and issues out in the community, Clara said.
Nighswonger had previously served as the agency’s development director and will return to that vacant slot.
"The system works the way it should. I’m happy about the fact that we were able to sit together and come to a consensus," Clara said.
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