Richard Murray, interim director of the Housing Authority of Kenner for the past two years, says the search for his permanent replacement will begin in September and he expects to “transition out” of the position by the end of the year.
Murray, whose main job is as the executive director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority, has been running the Kenner authority since April 2013, helping to re-establish proper management and accounting at the beleaguered agency.
The authority was deemed “troubled” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was several years behind in submitting its financial statements to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office when Murray took over.
The auditor’s office set the wheels in motion recently for an audit of the authority’s 2014 financials and could have it done by the end of the year.
The audit of the 2015 financials should be submitted soon, marking the first time since at least 2012 that the agency will be up-to-date with the auditor’s office.
Joy Irwin, director of local government services with the auditor’s office, said that, at least in terms of meeting its obligations to file with the state, the Kenner authority has shown improvement.
“We’re encouraged by the progress, but there’s a long way to go,” she said.
The audits that have been completed have all cited problems with missing documentation, inadequate controls and incomplete records, and Murray’s team has had to reconstruct work that wasn’t done properly, or at all, under previous regimes.
“I think things are going real well,” he said last week. “I feel a whole lot better than I did a year or a year and a half ago.”
The agency, which owns and operates 1,000 public housing units and manages almost 4,000 rental vouchers for private apartments, had gotten in trouble for shoddy accounting practices several times in the past decade.
In one instance, an outgoing executive director was paid more than $140,000 in overtime even though the hours were not properly documented and far exceeded the maximum allowed.
More problems came to light in 2012, when HUD launched an investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement and substandard conditions at 137 apartment units.
Murray said he is still awaiting an answer from HUD on whether it will forgive some portion of the $2.9 million in federal money it says the Kenner authority owes. HUD says the authority didn’t properly account for how it spent the money, but Murray said he was able to dig up some records from before his tenure that could answer those questions.
He said he is not sure whether that information will suffice, but he would like to see the Kenner authority removed from HUD’s troubled list.
“I’m hoping that as HUD assesses us this year, we’d be pretty close to being taken off the troubled list,” he said.
HUD could not be reached for comment.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.