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February 22, 2024, Meeting Minutes

Tuesday, February 22, 2024 8:00 AM

Tranquil Terrace
845 Swoope Ave.
Winter Park, FL 32789

Commissioners Present: Board Chair; Hal George, Commissioner Tammie Holiday, Commissioner Bob Klettner, and Commissioner Karen Jacobs.
Commissioners Absent: Commissioner Dawn Ofodile and Vice-Chair Kenneth Goodwin
WPHA Staff Present: LaShanda Lovette, Executive Director, Amaris Hunt, Operations Manager, Tarena Grant, Resource Coordinator, Melissa Martinez, Accountant and Sherry Sutphen, Attorney.
NDC Staff Present: James Allen
NDC Staff present via Zoom: Cindy Wilson joined via Zoom at 8:29am, Rick Elwood joined via Zoom at 8:45am

  1. Call to Order
    Chair George called the meeting to order at 8:01 am. and announced a quorum.
  2. Public Comment
    There was no public comment bought before the board.

  3. Consent Items

    1. Approval of December Minutes
      Commissioner Klettner moved to approve the January 2024 Board meeting minutes.
      Commissioner Holiday provided a second. The motion was accepted without further discussion.

  4. Actions Items
    There were no actionable items

  5. Executive Director - Discussion and/or Direction

    1. Update Check Fraud Investigation
      ED Lovette explained that the Forensic audit had revealed a total of 21 checks that had been compromised by previous employee, Laneshia Church. She confirmed that she would be adding the additional checks to the police report. She asked for the board permission to contact the individuals affected by the check fraud and to reissue the checks to these individuals. Commissioner Jacobs asked what would happen if the individual did not respond to her attempt. Attorney Sutphen confirmed that checks would be submitted to Unclaimed Funds with the State if this were to happen.

      Commissioner Klettner moved for the Executive Director to be granted permission to contact the affected individuals and reissue checks. Commissioner Jacobs seconded this motion. Commissioner Klettner made a motion to amend the previous motion, so that any additional checks are found to be compromised, the Executive Director has permission to reissue those as well. The motion was accepted unanimously.

      Commissioner Klettner asked if there have been any updates from the Police Department. ED Lovette explained this will take about 30 days. There was no further discussion.

    2. Refinance Tuscany First Mortgage
      ED Lovette explained that Tuscany at Aloma has a balloon payment that would be due by the end of May. Seacoast bank was not interested in refinancing the loans, as operating accounts are not with them. Vystar is unable to service us, since they do not meet requirements to service our loans as a credit union. We may have an opportunity to do so with Valley Bank. Commissioner Klettner advised that he had a banking contact at Southstate Bank, who expressed the Winter Park Oaks mortgage was late for the month. He expressed frustration on how we could possibly think we could be in a favorable position with respect to refinancing if we are not up to date with our mortgage payments. Chair George asked Mr. Allen with NDC how this transpired. Mr. Allen apologized for the oversight and confirmed that all mortgages had been taken care of to date. Chair George also wanted to note that financials had not been produced but Patti Tilchin, fee accountant, due to her awaiting 12/31 Trial balances, bank recs and NDC general ledger.

      Commissioner Jacobs asked for confirmation on if all monies had been moved from United Community bank to Valley Bank. ED Lovette explained that some monies are still in the united community accounts until the final account changed happen with the Subsidized rent account and allocation account.

    3. Result of Email Investigation
      - Ms. Sutphen explained she is still in the process of the investigation and is currently awaiting documentation. She is at the liberty of the individuals she's requested information from and will give an update once everything has been received.

    4. Focus for 2024
      ED Lovette directed the board's attention to what she would like to focus on for the year 2024. This included Acquiring resources for WPHA children and young adults, acquiring grants to elevate the organization financially, Professional development of the WPHA Team and Board of Commissioners, Organizational Development, which includes a policy overhaul and working with a Co-Developer on how we can re - develop our properties. Chair George expressed that his highest concern is our properties and our people. He expressed his disappointment in the letter we'd received from city officials that met with residents at The Plymouth, our mortgages being past due and overall dissatisfaction for how the Executive Director had been managing the management company. He went on to explain that he'd received many complaints about our Regional Manager, Ms. Wilson, and asked for clarification as to why she isn't present at board meetings. Mr. Allen stated he was not at liberty to share the reasoning for her absences on the record but would be happy to share at a later time. Chair George expressed that our issues within the organization are systemic and that is what needs to be addressed, not the things presented by the Executive Director as her focus for the year. There was no further discussion.

  6. NDC Report - Property Overview
    Mr. Allen gave a brief synopsis of the property overview. He explained that The Meadows is still down the unit that was affected by the Hurricane and there are also units affected by bat infestation. Chair George asked how this was being handled. Mr. Allen explained that the bats are in some of the crawl spaces, and they have quotes out for a resolution. Mr. Alicea went on to explain that Wildlife trappers had been on the property for the last two weeks working on identifying areas of concern, as well as trying to trap and relocate the bats. Chair George asked for confirmation on how often we inspect the properties. Mr. Allen confirmed that the preventative maintenance schedule is quarterly.

    Mr. Allen went on to explain that The Plymouth has 11 vacant units with 3 applications in progress. He is meeting with his team today to decide on concessions for the 80% units to fill those units, as applicants are not income qualifying at this time. He went on to explain that Railroad Avenue has 3 vacant units and those will also be a part of the concession conversation, along with Winter Park Oaks. He hopes to have a solution by the end of the week.

    He confirmed that Tranquil Terrace is 100% occupied. He went on to explain that Tuscany at Aloma has 28 units down at this time due to remediation with 5 unit turns nearing completion. These units will be used as temporary housing as they begin to address remediation issues in occupied units.

  7. Financials
    Mr. Allen gave a brief explanation of the operating statement. Vacancies are up at this time, but it is tied directly primarily to Tuscany vacancies. He opened the floor for any questions. There was no further discussion.

  8. ROSS Report
    Mrs. Grant explained that January is the time for pre-planning and reflecting with many of our committed and active community partners. She explained that she'd met with 10 old and prospective partners to plan out the first quarter with coordinated support, activities and opportunities for residents and the agency.

    She gave kudos to the residents at The Plymouth for taking the lead on building an engaged community. Residents have started offering Spanish lessons and breakfast club gatherings. This month many of the scheduled recurring activities are still taking place, with the exception of Second Harvest Pantry.

    Lastly, she gave a special thanks to Winter Park Community Center for offering transportation services to the seniors over at The Plymouth, so that they could attend the Rollins Spring Photo class. Another special thanks to former commissioner O'Rawe who donated a living room and bedroom set to one of the ROSS participants. Chair George asked if there is a big need for furniture donations, as he gets requests for things like that regularly.

    Mrs. Grant confirmed that there is always a need to be filled. Chair George confirmed he would begin forwarding referrals over to her as he received them. There was no further discussion.

  9. ED Evaluation/ Discussion
    Attorney Sutphen shared that she'd only received one Executive Director evaluation packet at this time, so we are unable to do the Executive Director's evaluation at today's meeting. She went on to explain that she'd received two packets but one had been withdrawn. Commissioner Jacobs explained that she'd withdrawn her packet in light of a conversation she'd had with the agency's auditor. After her withdrawal of her packet, she compiled a list of issues and complaints that have been bought before the board during ED Lovette's tenure as acting director and CEO of the agency. Reference Exhibit A. As a result, she expressed her concern for the direction of the organization and the effectiveness and competency of the Executive Director Lovette. Commissioner Jacobs called a motion to suspend with pay, Executive Director Lovette until the audit findings and any pending investigations are cleared. Commissioner Kletter provided a second. When called to a vote, Chair George asked Attorney Sutphen for direction on how to proceed correctly. Attorney Sutphen stated that since the board is her employer, it may proceed however they see fit. A portion of the motion is presented based on the email investigation taking place. She is still awaiting some results for that. The separate portion of the motion is in regard to the audit. Commissioner Jacobs clarified that she called for the suspension prior to the audit or investigation completion, because she does not want any interference from ED Lovette, that may slow progression or skew the results that are being received in any way. She encouraged all board members to talk to the auditors, the bank, employees and anyone they'd like outside of other board members. She expressed her lack of confidence in the director and feels as though the reputation of the agency is being compromised.

    Chair George asked ED Lovette if she had any remarks. ED Lovette explained that she takes ownership of the mistakes that have been made on her watch. But also feels as though there is a different level of scrutiny being placed on her. She feels as though there are lots of moving parts to her position and that the organization attempted to take on self-management in a less than perfect climate. Attorney Sutphen asked for clarification on the level of scrutiny ED Lovette feels she's been placed under. ED Lovette explained that no matter what mistakes are made, even things not in her control, she feels the fault is assigned to her. She is never given credit for the good things that happen. Commissioner Jacobs explained that is her responsibility as the CEO of the agency. She asked why ED Lovette did not get help for accountant Melissa Martinez when she saw the department was inundated. ED Lovette explained that she was helping Mrs. Martinez and when she realized that help was needed, she hired assistance for that department. She explained that her goal was to ensure she made sound, solid decisions and that she did things right, not with haste.

    Chair George asked Attorney Sutphen what the outcome of the investigation would mean to the suspension, since that is what the suspension is predicated on. He expressed that he too had spoken with Auditor, Rachel Johnson and Patti Tilchin, and both of them expressed that the audit for the year was significantly worse than the prior year. Attorney Sutphen explained that the audit and investigation would need to be finalized and presented to the board for them to make a decision on whether or not employment would be restored or terminated. Chair George asked if ED Lovette knew about the findings and if they are accurate. ED Lovette stated she was aware, and they are not accurate in their entirety. This is her reasoning for wanting Mr. Gilmore present to give better understanding on the findings of the audit, since they are HUD related topics.

    Commissioner Klettner withdrew his second to the motion made by Karen, as he does not think it's right to move forward with the audit or investigation results without ED Lovette present when the reports are given to the board. He felt it was important for her to answer or explain. Attorney Sutphen explained that ED Lovette would get a copy of the results. Commissioner Jacobs reiterated that each board member should talk to the auditor. Commissioner Klettner explained that he feels it's important that the Auditor is present at the meeting, so that everyone can hear the same information at the same time.

    Commissioner Jacobs called the board's attention to the compliance contract with Hummingbird. She expressed frustration that the board was not aware of this contract and that over $100,000 was spent with this company. ED Lovette clarified that there was more than one contract with the vendor in question for different services, so that statement was not entirely accurate.

    Attorney Sutphen stated a second was needed to keep the motion on the floor. Chair George provided a second. Chair George asked for more clarification about Hummingbird's function. ED Lovette attempted to answer and explained that when switching to third party management, we only had one person who was handling our compliance. When she resigned, ED explained that she'd looked to procure a company to handle compliance, because she knew it was too much for one person to handle the workload of our entire portfolio. She confirmed that we did receive quotes for the compliance contract.

    Chair George gave a brief recap over everything that's been shared thus far and expressed his issues with how things have been handled by the Executive Director. He also expressed how uncomfortable he is that two board members are not present for the decision of the suspension. He asked Attorney Sutphen for direction on how to proceed. Attorney Sutphen confirmed that the organization must still function and that the board is within it's legal authority to move forward with Commissioner Jacob's motion. She confirmed that no matter what the decision is, the reports from each investigation will be presented to the board. Commissioner Jacob's reiterated that she feels the process is being circumvented by ED Lovette and that the process will move more quickly without ED Lovette involved. She went on to explain that ED Lovette does not have the skillset to lead the organization and that the organization is not her opportunity to learn how to lead the agency.

    Commissioner Jacobs shared that she would like to place a current employee into position as interim Executive Director at the current salary of ED Lovette. Commissioner Klettner asked who she'd elect. She confirmed that she would elect Tarena Grant, as she is the only person she feels is equipped to sit in that position. Attorney Sutphen confirmed that Commissioner Holiday is unable to vote if this motion is placed before the board.

    Chair George called the first motion to a vote. Each commissioner voted in favor of the suspension of Executive Director Lovette until the investigation can be completed and the audit finding can be presented to us as a board. She went on to explain that with this vote ED Lovette will relinquish her phone, keys, laptops, badge, passwords, and anything she has to communicate with vendors, credit cards, automobile, bank access or employees and only returned upon reinstatement of clear findings. The motion was passed unanimously.

    Commissioner Jacobs motioned the elect Tarena Grant as the interim Executive Director. Chair George asked Mrs. Grant how she felt about the election. Mrs. Grant stated she considers it an honor but is unaware of what this will entail. Chair George expressed that he would like to get the investigation and audit wrapped up quickly. He asked for clarification on whether Mrs. Grant would be the person who is responsible for providing any requested information to the auditor. ED Lovette stated there is still information to be shared with the Auditor. She also asked for clarification on whether she is suspended. Chair George confirmed that she is suspended with pay. Attorney Sutphen explained that she can speak to ED Lovette on the board's behalf, but that the ED will no longer be performing Job duties. Chair George asked when the audit closing would be scheduled. He proposed a date of 3/1 from 12pm - 2pm. He asked Ms. Hunt to confer with Commissioner Ofodile and Commissioner Goodwin on their availability.

    Attorney Sutphen asked if the board would like to provide a second on the vote for Tarena Grant as interim Executive Director. Commissioner Klettner provided a second to the Motion. Mrs. Grant accepted the nomination, and the motion was called to a vote, excluding Commissioner Holiday. The motion was accepted unanimously. There was no further discussion.

  10. Commissioner's Report
    There were no commissioner reports.

  11. Adjournment

With there being no further business to come before the board, Commissioner Klettner motioned to adjourn, and Commissioner Jacobs provided a second. Chair George called adjournment at 10:13a.m.

Respectfully Submitted,
Hal George, Board Chair Tarena Grant, Interim Executive Director

Over the last 2 years under your leadership the below items have been brought before this board which causes me concern and makes me question your ability to act as our leader and CEO of this Housing Authority. As single items they may not warrant concern, but seeing this all together makes me question your ability to effectively run this agency.

Two separate occurrences of Fraud:
$250k - 2/2023 -
$7,100 in check fraud involving tenant deposits (reminder this is approx. 15 checks in the amount of $7100 which would be a felony) Both employees where hired under your tenure.
Check Fraud - information was provided to this board on December - however I have reason to believe you knew of the check Fraud on or about June/July and this board was not notified.
The $250k fraud happened in 2/2023 and as of earlier this month the process of moving these monies to a new institution had not been finalized. Due to the fraud issues there were no proactive steps taken by you as acting CEO/ED for better security steps - two factor authentication, password changes every 90 days.

As our Executive Director you made a unilateral decision to rebrand the entire organization, changed the LOGO and website with no discussion or involvement of this board. Your only response was: sorry you didn't know. Also last month you created dummy emails from commissioners w/o explanation or purpose to this board.

RFP for Developer was sent out in 2nd QTR of 2023. It took you over 9 months to engage a committee, report back to the board for a final decision in 2024. No sense of urgency to address - seems to be a theme.

Pressure washing bill for $1500.00; allocated to individual properties even though no individual could account for the work being done. Was not discovered until audit done; took over 8 months and monies were supposedly returned to this agency.

Promoted Amirs to Operations Manager w/o merit and necessary qualifications with a substantial pay raise.

Promoted Felix to Project Manager with no qualifications as a PM which requires certifications in the private sector to handle this role.

I received last week an email from an Image Consultant w/o any knowledge of this expense for this agency. Were all the board members copied? ED confirmed by email this was being paid for by WPHA to improve her image. The other employees were providing feedback. This should not be a WPHA expense.

All of 2023 you told this board the reason there were no financials to present was due to the accounting person not having the information ready; when in fact you had not supplied her with the information in order for her to prepare this document.

Ran a government agency with debit cards, - one of the findings on the audit from last year and has loss of internal control over CASH RECEIPTS (one of the previous findings) and new finding for this year.

You used a WPHA credit card to pay for a personal flight for your spouse. I'm sure this was a legitimate oversight; however it was not corrected until the auditor found the mistake a year later.

Audit findings - I spoke this week with our auditor on her findings last year we had 2 findings and this year we have 5 findings - related to disbursement and procurement. Hummingbird HR was to review files at a cost of $7.80/file for 705 files each month and there is no evidence that supports them showing up physically to do this. We have paid this company over $100k. I don't remember ever approving this contract.

In conclusion - we are jeopardizing this agency and our reputation. The investigation is not completed by the auditor and the findings are still not complete.

We need to suspend with pay our ED until the investigation can be completed and theaudit finding can be presented to us as a board.

I make the motion to: suspend with pay our ED until the investigation can be completed and the audit finding can be presented to us as a board with this vote my expectation is ED will relinquish her phone, keys, laptops, badge, password and anything she has to communicate with vendors, credit cards, automobile, banks or employees and only returned upon reinstatement of clear findings.

Motion to appoint Tarena Grant as interim ED with pay at same level as current ED salary.