RHA Interim Director Jim McCaskill announced he would step down at the end of this week, since newly-hired Executive Director Angela McGill has now been on board at the public housing agency since Dec. 2.
“I don’t know that we could ever say enough to thank you for what you’ve done for us,” RHA Board Chairwoman Diane Sullivan said during the meeting to McCaskill.
“It has been interesting,” McCaskill commented.
“All of this has been very interesting,” Sullivan replied.
“I feel quite sure you didn’t know what you were asking, and I didn’t have any idea what it would entail, but we got through it,” McCaskill said. “There’s good people in the complex, and there’s good people working there. We’ve pushed hard, and it wasn’t always pretty, but we did what we had to do.”
McCaskill was hired by the agency as its interim director in May in the wake of Gracie Ingram’s suspension.
He inherited a situation where allegations of the misappropriation of public funds had called attention to loose management practices and a lack of formalized policies at the agency which handles about three-quarters of a million dollars in federal taxpayer revenue each year.
The total annual budget of the RHA is approximately $1.1 million.
Upon his arrival, he began providing a packet with materials including monthly transactions and financial statements to board members and the public at the board meetings.
He created files with such information as employment records and tenant payments, and began keeping detailed notes of the business conducted by the board in the minutes of their meetings.
Under his direction, some agency programs were discontinued, such as the 21st Century Learning Community headed up by former RHA Chairman Bruce Stanback.
McCaskill was the man who chose to terminate Stanback from his position at the RHA. It has since come to light that Stanback was the target of a federal probe into his dealings and employment with the RHA.
McCaskill also mediated such situations as a dispute by the state over laptop computers that weren’t returned to the North Carolina Department of Education after being used by the 21st Century Program.
Last week, McGill, McCaskill and Sullivan appeared before the Rockingham City Council to present an update of the agency’s activities. McGill outlined a plan to make the agency more professional by setting formal policies, developing and training staff and giving stake holders a voice in the decision-making process for the agency.
Tuesday evening, the board approved the minutes of a Dec. 9 special meeting which included in excess of two hours of closed door discussion related to personnel and policy questions with McGill and McCaskill.
Following the closed session, two motions were made and approved unanimously to amend the normal procurement and disposition policy of the agency, as well as to amend its stimulus funding procurement responsibility.
McCaskill explained the documents are quite lengthy, and contain some legal and federal government jargon which makes them hard to sum up.
“Essentially, we’re formalizing and documenting procedures,” he explained. “There will be more policies and procedures that will be adopted establishing how the Rockingham Housing Authority does business.”
Since McCaskill’s hiring, two new board members have also been appointed by Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin, and new officers have been installed on that public body.
Tuesday’s agenda itself included only the approval of monthly invoices and financial and an update on the stimulus-funded roofing project underway.
“We had a construction update meeting (with Mitex Roofing Contractors) on Dec. 7, where they filled us in some issues related to the roofing project,” McCaskill told the board. “The contract’s completion date is Feb. 10, and we’ve been reminding the contractor that there is still a lot of work to be done.”
He explained 13 of the 52 buildings are complete.
Board member Cohen Cox asked for clarification on the risk of the RHA losing money if the contract is not completed by that date, and was told the contractor would begin to lose money.
“We don’t want them waiting until the last minute, then doing sub-par work to try to get the contract closed out,” McCaskill said.
Board member Joe Mendola requested more detailed information relating to capital improvements be delivered to board members in the future, which McGill said she would do.
She also updated the group on plans for a board retreat at some point during the month of January.
“I think it’s crucial that we don’t delay it,” McGill said. “I think that is something that will get us started out on a strong foundation if we can get that training.”
McGill also told board members she is working to create a resident advisory panel to give residents of public and Section 8 housing input.
“The residential advisory board is designed to be able to get information about the agency and about the agency’s policies, and communicate them to the residents,” she said. “As well as to communicate their concerns. Hopefully, it will create an atmosphere of ownership and foster self-sufficiency.
“When you foster ownership, it makes our job a lot easier because the residents take responsibility.”
In addition, McGill said she is working to address residents’ concerns over those on the banned list at the RHA visiting the facilities.
Individuals who are suspected of drug-dealing, or commit continuous public disturbances, are banned from visiting the RHA. Residents report some of them have been coming back around hoping they won’t be recognized.
“Of course, I don’t know who they are when I look at them,” McGill said. “The resident advisory board will also help with that once it’s up and running.” Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.