In a unanimous vote at a hastily called meeting this afternoon, commissioners of the Housing Authority of Maricopa County unanimously agreed to place the agency's executive director on paid leave, pending the outcome of an investigation.
Doug Lingner, the agency's director since August 2008, will not be permitted to be on housing authority property or have contact with agency files or employees -- other than newly named Interim Director Karen Mofford.
The decision came just two weeks after a New Times cover story detailing allegations that Lingner had hired his brother and son for work at the agency, as well as a former colleague from his days on the Phoenix City Council.
New Times also detailed how Lingner signed off on inaccurate information on an application for stimulus funds -- and refused to answer questions about how construction firms had been chosen for other stimulus projects.
Many of those firms, New Times reported, had been supporters of Lingner's during his days on the council.
The commissioners did not allow Lingner to speak at the meeting -- despite his request to do so.
Instead, they followed the advice of County Manager David Smith, who had prodded the commissioners last week to place Lingner on leave. (Smith also offered the service of county auditors, although board members chose not to take him up on that.)
After opening the meeting at 12:20 p.m., the commissioners met in executive session -- discussing the situation with their attorneys and without Lingner -- for more than an hour. Then they allowed both him and other bystanders into the meeting.
At that point, they moved swiftly. The commissioners had previously authorized the hiring of Kate Baker to explore areas of possible employee misconduct; today, they unanimously voted to expand Baker's authority to look into Lingner, too.
In an apparent change, Baker will now report to the deputy Maricopa County attorneys who assist the agency, Chris Keller and Brandon Newton, instead of the housing authority's human-resources director.
Following unanimous approval of that item, Chairman Rick Cole said that he would like a motion to place Lingner on administrative leave. At that point, Lingner, clad in his signature Hawaiian shirt, spoke up for the first time.
"Can I ask you a question," he said. "At some point, am I going to get a chance to make at least one statement?"
"It's your right to do that," Cole said, sounding somewhat uncertain, "but I don't know what your statement would be. My advice to you; I would not make a statement at this point." He also noted that Lingner has hired an attorney.
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Lingner said his attorney had signed off on the statement. But another attorney in the room -- Deputy County Attorney Keller -- noted that it wasn't up to Lingner whether he wanted to make a statement. It was up to the board as to whether they wanted to hear it.
For the record, the board did not. Maybe, one member suggested, after they got through the other agenda items.
At that point, the meeting continued quickly: they appointed the interim director, established the terms of Lingner's leave, and disposed of another agenda item in five minutes flat.
The board then adjourned without allowing Lingner to comment.