Originally created 02/13/01

Report reviews housing agency



A subcommittee studying the city's Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development said Monday that dismissing Director Keven Mack does not appear to be the solution to the department's rehabilitation program's problems.

Initial recommendations for improving the department, which were presented Monday to the commission's administrative services committee, included increased funding for housing projects and a complete restructuring of the city government's chain of command.

"The department is performing based on what's been set forth and the expectations the city has set for it," said Andy Cheek, one of the subcommittee's two members.

But those expectations need to be raised before the department can start performing at a level acceptable to those who receive its assistance, commissioners said.

The subcommittee will spend the next two weeks interviewing grant recipients and members of the department's Citizens Advisory Committee. When the sub-panel reports back to the commission committee on Feb. 26, Mr. Mack's job likely will not be in jeopardy.

"If we don't strengthen our government at the top to give support to those under us and require accountability, then we can't expect them to perform," Commissioner Bill Kuhlke said.

For example, he said, the chain of command in place for the city assigns one of three deputy administrators to oversee the housing department. But the city has never had more than one deputy administrator in place, and currently there aren't any.

The subcommittee also says some of the department's shortcomings identified in rehab work could be easily corrected at the inspector's level.

"It is not intended to be a remodeling program or a substantial rehabilitation effort," Mr. Kuhlke said. "Nevertheless, we think that our inspectors can do a better job at requiring the contractors to pay closer attention to the cosmetic aspects of the jobs as the work is performed."

The report also said part of the department's problems are tied to a funding cap. Of the $25,000 used to rehabilitate a house, at least $15,000 is encumbered by the structural, electrical and plumbing costs that are required to bring a home up to code before contractors can begin doing aesthetic work, the commissioners found.

"Further discussion needs to take place on the possibility of raising the current $25,000 cap in the Augusta housing market to address the need for more substantial rehabilitation work," Mr. Kuhlke said.

Two existing vacancies in the department, coupled with two high-level positions that were filled recently also have caused accountability problems for the housing program. Filling those positions is expected to improve department operations in the future, the report said.

Mr. Mack said his office has been given a reasonable review, although he's unsure what the subcommittee's final recommendations will be.

"I thought it was accurate, and I thought it was fair," Mr. Mack said. "I'll just rely on the committee and continue to provide them with information."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.

Other action

In other Augusta Commission action Monday:

The administrative services committee approved the reclassification of the fire department's Public Information Officer position. Media relation duties will shift to a current fire department employee, and a new job title will be created for an executive officer who will be hired to handle emergency management and incident command duties.

The finance committee voted to renew a contract retaining Baird & Co. as the city's internal auditor and will begin a search for an in-house internal auditor.