By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
Doug Lingner finally quit his job as executive director of the Housing Authority of Maricopa County last Tuesday, not quite two years after he was hired — and not quite two months after he was put on leave following a New Times exposé detailing his mismanagement and penchant for nepotism.
The housing authority's board of commissioners had been trying to force Lingner's resignation for weeks. In exchange for his quitting, and promising not to sue, they agreed to give Lingner three months' severance pay.
That's three months fewer than he demanded in a letter to the board just a few weeks ago. But Lingner was clearly wise to fold when he did.
That's because the truth is now coming out — the truth about operations at the housing authority, and the truth about Lingner.
It isn't good.
Indeed, at the very meeting in which the commissioners signed off on Lingner's severance agreement, they were treated to a report from Barbara Gallegos, the program center coordinator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's field office in Phoenix. And after Gallegos' evisceration of his operation, Lingner was lucky the commissioners didn't come after him with pitchforks.
HUD's review of the housing authority — which was also triggered by my February cover story — isn't finished yet. Gallegos told the board she wanted to speak because of the magnitude of the problems her staff has already identified, including an overall lack of documentation, internal controls, and checks and balances. Employee evaluation has been nonexistent and disciplinary action inconsistent, she told the commissioners. There's no policy for use of the agency's vehicles or credit card.
And, as Gallegos' report made clear, my story was correct in identifying Lingner's credit card use as a problem. HUD policy says that meals should be paid for by the agency only if they're "tied to a specific training session or meeting where technical information is displayed." Yet Lingner had been treating himself to several meals each week on the housing authority's dime — averaging roughly $500 a month in dining expenses.
"Based on the receipts we're seeing, the receipts don't tell us that they're eligible," Gallegos said. "In many cases, there are no receipts."
Gallegos also pointed to numerous problems with the agency's contracts. Staffers seemed to believe that they didn't need to get three bids, so long as contracts were below $25,000. But Gallegos says that federal laws are far stricter: The housing authority should have obtained quotes from at least three vendors for any contract larger than $2,000.
And, in some cases, the agency seemed to be trying to get around even the $25,000 threshold.
"It appeared that contracts were arbitrarily divided into smaller amounts so as not to go over the $25,000 limit," Gallegos told the commissioners. In other cases, she said, HUD investigators simply couldn't find any documentation whatsoever.
In her presentation, Gallegos didn't identify specific contracts. But a lack of supporting documentation has led to the cancellation of an entire set of contracts, as I confirmed last week.
I reported in February that the housing authority had been awarded $6.2 million in federal stimulus funds via a county grant to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed homes. The housing authority had asked firms to submit their qualifications — for construction work, real estate brokerage, and appraisals — rather than make a bid for a specific job. Firms found to be qualified were then selected for work as it arose.
But there were some odd coincidences in the list of "qualified" firms: Almost all their owners had been donors to Lingner's campaigns during his tenure on the Phoenix city council. Another "qualified" firm operates out of the same North Phoenix office suite as Rick Cole, the longtime chairman of the housing authority's board of commissioners.
In a public records request, I asked to see any score sheets or other documents used by the evaluation panel. But Lingner refused to even tell me who served on the selection panel, saying the matter was under investigation. And though such documents are clearly public record under the law, my requests were ignored for two months.
It took a strongly worded letter from New Times' attorney to get to the truth last week: The agency can't find any such documents. It has no score sheets, no explanations of how firms were selected, no minutes from the panel that chose them. (I did get a list of three panelists, apparently from Lingner's memory.)
Ben Chao, director of the agency's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, tells me that the firms had already been selected by the time of his hiring last June.
Indeed, it appears Lingner inked the contracts just one week before Chao started work. Chao says he learned recently that no evaluation sheets or other documents exist. The agency also failed to save the shipping boxes that firms used to submit their qualifications.
In light of that, the housing authority canceled the contracts earlier this month, Chao says. For the remaining $2 million or so left on the grant, it's been soliciting new firms for work.
This time, instead of having a brief period for firms to submit their qualifications or miss out entirely, the housing authority will leave the process open.
I completely agree that Doug Linger should never have gotten severance and should have instead been brought up on criminal charges. He pillfered the housing agency and walked around like a king in his little kingdom while he was doing it. People don't understand exactly how miserable he made everyone when he was director. He didn't just take money from the housing agency, he also took the self-respect from those employees who did stand up to him. They were put on admin leave, ridiculed, threatened, and their reputations were shredded all in the name of Lingner's greed. The cocky little bany rooster may appear to be gone, but the rumor is that he visits regularly. I guess it's true that criminals always return to the scene of their crimes. Here's hoping for justice...or at the very least, an end to the mayham.
Three months severence??? He should be charged with stealing, fraud,etc. And he could not have done all he did without the board being aware. How did he really get hired? Much more investigation is needed to get to the roots of obvious curruption in this agency
What is disturbing is the seemingly lack of interest in the part of the Board and of the interim Director, Karen Mofford, to Laura Schreiber's role in Brandon Lingner's hiring through Goodwill. If staff is disciplined without any basis, then how can Schreiber be allowed to continue to work as HR Director when her credibility and trustworthiness are non existent? Her actions were damaging to the Agency and, ultimately, contributed to Doug Lingner's downfall. A message to Mofford - for once, do the right thing and fire Schreiber.
Wizard, I am expecting that if HUD conducts a complete and comprehensive examination of the Phoenix shop they will find fault with Lingner, as well as others still employed there, or as members of the board.
Lingner could not have been getting away with abuses without the collusion of others, voluntarily or not. I'm sure there is plenty of singing happening now, and it ain't from the choir pit.
Sarah, another very accurate and comprehensive piece. Great tenacity. Too bad this story has been overshadowed by SB1070 and the county attorney changes. Yes, the are important, but from what I can tell in your reporting, Lingner is nothing more than a junior member of MCSO command. He learned well from the Flaccid Fool and appears to have used many of the same 'processes' to his advantage. Fortunately, he didn't have the layers of protection that MCSO affords the Flaccid Fool.
Again, nicely done.