Saturday, February 7, 2009

Some stand by Nash while others “wait and see”

With much of its cash flow dependent on the sale of housing it develops for lower income groups – sales that have slowed to scrawl in light of the current real estate, employment and credit crunch – the Blue Ridge Housing Development Corp. is experiencing some tough times. Cindy Hebblethwaite, the CFO and a nine-year staff member for the Blue Ridge Housing Development, Corp. is one of three employees continuing to work part-time without pay until things turn around.
.
Roanoke City Councilman Alvin Nash, the now-former Director of the BRHD and his staff have worked without compensation since last November 7. Nash resigned December 19th and received no vacation pay or any other compensation upon his resignation.
.
Hebblethwaite has said she thought there was a “headhunting” expedition on Nash because he is a member of City Council. The Housing Authority swore off certain types of federal grants once Nash was appointed to the council, hoping to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
.
Said Hebblethwaite of the BRHD: “they are a close-knit dedicated staff …Nash is the most honest boss [I have] ever worked for, and a stickler for transparency.” She also said that the $330,000 reportedly owed by the agency to the city was more like $250,000. Funds returned to the city are not owed until a project is completed, according to Hebblethwaite.
.
A revolving door of funds flowed smoothly through BRHD via the sale of properties until the economy ground to a halt. Money must be spent before further funds from grants can be received. The predicament that BRHD finds itself in is not due to Nash forgoing Federal funding, according to Hebblethwaite: “it did not make a single bit of difference … you can’t draw on it unless you build from it.”
.
Nash heaped praise on the dedicated staff working as volunteers and confirmed Hebblethwaite’s account, adding, “we have never had much of a profit margin.” He intends to volunteer and wants to help acquire grants or state funding. “I can still do that,” said Nash, who reiterated “there is no conflict with me being on City Council … I have not benefited in any way. Anyone that says that there is – clearly does not understand. We stopped receiving the federal funding … [and] I’ve made sacrifices.”
.
Nash said that BRHD has helped 250 first-time Roanoke homebuyers and added substantially to the city’s tax base. Nash has not ruled out returning to the agency as director in the future when things turn around.
.
Frank Baratta, city budget team leader for Roanoke, explained that the bulk of the money owed by the BRHD is from the Southeast by Design project. The current documentation has changed over time and Baratta estimated the amount owed to the city at $258,000.
.
BRHD’s calculation is $261,000 but has not yet been validated and additional supporting documentation is still pending. Baratta emphasized that he has to protect the city, as they have to answer to HUD. The balance of the $330,000 figure includes property that is still in operation and Baratta’s intention in using the larger figure in a letter to BRHD was to give them a general picture of “how extensive the issue is financially.”

.
Nash said the city may allow the bank interest ($1500 monthly) as an expense but not staff resources needed to maintain the books, the unsold property, and staff time used in counseling sales prospects. Nash wants to “sit down [with the city] and renegotiate the contract – let’s look at the contract and how it’s written.” He wants to see an adjustment in the allowable expenses but is aware that the city is not open to negotiating. Baratta later made clear that he did not view “sitting down with BLHD” to discuss the issue as a “negotiation.”
.
Nash indicated he is trying to get another job and move on. He said he has a reputation to maintain and is hoping to sit down with HUD and “at least review that we [BRHD] have done things the way we should have done them all along – and figure out how to repay it.” Nash is confident that with a big project – and buyers for properties – the agency can work its way out of the financial shortfall.
.
Nash is irritated by what he deems “inaccurate “publicity. Nash said by media reporting, “what Blue Ridge COULD owe … is not the truth.” Nash does not think information should be disseminated prematurely. “There’s no fairness to it … it makes a great headline,” said Nash. He believes that until contracts are “negotiated out” FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) exemptions should apply.
.
Nash concluded that FOIA prohibits companies from doing business with the city. As a public entity using taxpayer dollars cities are subject to full disclosure and transparency by law. Only by specific exemptions of law can a public entity withhold information. Examples of exemptions include bargaining for the sale or disposition of property, personnel and legal matters. Nash said he has received support from all Council members except one. They are willing to “wait and see” the results of the investigation that Nash himself has called for.
.
Brenda Hale, President of the Roanoke NAACP chapter, and Bishop Edward Mitchell, President of the local SCLC, both were unhappy with Nash’s appointment to Roanoke City Council from the very beginning. Mitchell said that Nash knew from day one he had a conflict of interest and still took the seat. “[Now] he has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong.” By not informing fellow members about money the BRHD owed City Council, members “felt like fools,” said Mitchell, when they were contacted by The Roanoke Times who got wind of BRHD’s cash flow problems.
.
Nash said he understands that there are those with opinions that will never change – no matter the explanation or vindication.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Roanoke City Politics

Tags:

Comments

No Comments

Comments are not moderated. Notify any abuse at info@roanokefreepress.com put ABUSE in the subject and the offensive post.

Leave a Reply