Doug Lingner Was Just Hired to Run the County’s Public Housing Program Though He’s Totally Unqualified

When the Housing Authority of Maricopa County began the hunt for a new executive director, it had some specifics in mind.

Its hire would be running the county's public housing program — no small task. Naturally, the ideal candidate would be educated, with at least a bachelor's degree, and have at least seven years of "progressive experience in a highly responsible administrative position." Also required: someone with vision, strong financial acumen, and, while politically astute, "apolitical" in nature.

So how in the heck did they end up hiring Doug Lingner?

This guy is totally political — his most recent job was as a Phoenix city councilman. He's got no college degree and no real experience with finance or housing. (Before he was elected to the council, he was a tile setter.) And though a councilman's job can be a pressure cooker, the duties are not administrative — Lingner had a staff of four and a budget of about $40,000. In Phoenix, it's the city manager who does the grunt work.

Now Lingner will be supervising a staff of 52, with an annual budget of $20 million. He'll be running the Section 8 program for Valley residents and managing 790 rental units. Low-income families will depend on his skills to make sure they can get affordable housing in a timely manner.

Yikes.

This country is in a near-meltdown over housing. As all the best and brightest people at investment banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and even Congress have demonstrated, this is not simple stuff.

And now, more than ever, people are losing their homes. They have no choice but to rely on the government's largesse.

This is not the time to put an amateur at the helm, even if he's politically connected. Especially if he is politically connected.


I want to be clear: The problem is not simply that Doug Lingner doesn't have a college degree. If we really want to run a meritocracy, we must be willing to be make exceptions for candidates who are well qualified but not necessarily well educated.

The problem is that absolutely nothing in Lingner's background suggests he's ready for a job like this.

Before term limits ended his 12-year tenure at City Hall last fall, Lingner was widely viewed as a genial lightweight. His own constituents tried to recall him, twice. According to some residents I spoke with, Lingner was constantly pushing high-density projects down their throats. He was willing to carry water for well-connected developers, they said, but he had no time for their concerns.

Randy Jones, an activist who lives in Lingner's district, says that when he sounded the alarm about Lingner's being up for the Housing Authority post, "I got quite a few e-mails from people saying, 'We tried to work with this guy, but he was just non-existent, a no-show. You couldn't get him to call back.'"

And it's not just neighborhood activists who felt Lingner was frequently AWOL. Even the Arizona Republic, which rarely meets an elected official it doesn't like, criticized him for his inaccessibility. "Every time I've called his office, not only was he 'out,' but no one knew exactly when he would be 'in' again," wrote columnist Tony Sommer in 2005, noting that Lingner hadn't updated his district newsletter in more than two years. "It appears he's been 'out' a lot lately."

Suffice it to say, I'm not the only person who wonders what the heck Housing Authority commissioners were thinking. My public-records request revealed that the agency received 50 e-mails from Lingner's former constituents, opposing his choice. Records also show that the Housing Authority's own staffers strongly preferred the other finalist.

Here's what happened. Recruiters got 54 applicants and named three as finalists. But one finalist dropped out before the interviews because she'd apparently taken a job at Arizona State University.

That left Lingner and William "Bill" Wilkins.

Wilkins has spent the past eight years running the East St. Louis Housing Authority, which is roughly twice as big as the one in Maricopa County. Before that, he ran a smaller agency in Iowa and worked for a housing non-profit in Washington, D.C. He has both a bachelor's and a master's degree in public administration.

In July, before the commissioners made their decision, Housing Authority staff met with Lingner and Wilkins. The agency's recruiter later summarized the staff's feelings in a memo.

"In general, staff was in close agreement relative to their overall impression of each candidate," the recruiter wrote. "Each said they were most impressed by Mr. Wilkins, citing his extensive housing experience and perceived leadership ability. Staff acknowledged that Mr. Lingner's local contacts would be an asset for [the Housing Authority] but all feel his lack of direct housing authority executive management experience was a serious drawback that weighed heavily on their consideration."

Or, as one staffer concluded to the recruiter, "It seemed like he talked a lot but didn't say very much."

Yet the commissioners decided to hire Lingner.

Richard Cole, the board chairman, didn't return my calls for comment. Nor did the recruiter, California-based Ralph Andersen & Associates. Lingner called me back, but I missed the call — and when I called back 10 minutes later, he was gone.

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Craig Echeveste
Craig Echeveste

Sarah, Lingner is widely recognized as one of the strongest advocates for affordable housing and homeless services in Arizona. The Laveen people wanted to recall him for supporting affordable housing in their area. Your buddy Tony Summers at the Republic lived 2 doors down from the recall leader and his article was total trash. He admitted that he had never called when i tracked him down and let him know that his name never showed up in office call logs or voicemails. He was lying. The article he wrote mostly complained about the lack of Lingners attention to road maintenance in Lingners district. I informed him that Lingner had secured over half of the City-wide budget for road maintenance in District 7. That means that 1 district out of 8 districts in the city had 1/2 of the road maintenance budget. His hatchet job was a weak attempt to discredit a hard working advocate for affordable housing. We have seen these attacks before, and they are usually full of lies and innuendo. By the way, how do you think 50 residents of Laveen found out about this position being open much less being motivated enough to email the Housing Authority unless someone mounted an organized effort? 50 people dont email about shootings in their neighborhood much less a hiring process for the Director of County Housing. The same insiders that put you up to this story organized that email effort, thats pretty obvious.

 
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