In a letter to commissioners of the Housing Authority of Maricopa County penned today, County Manager David Smith and the Board of Supervisors offered its assistance in handling allegations against the housing authority's executive director, Doug Lingner.
Those allegations were first raised in this New Times cover story. Among them were allegations that Lingner hired his brother and son, laid off classified employees to make way for friends, hired an old council colleague as a lobbyist, and saw that construction work was given to firms that had supported Lingner during his days on the Phoenix City Council.
Smith, writing on behalf of the supervisors, urged commissioners to talk to the county's internal audit department, which "offered its services." It also recommended arranging an outside audit from HUD.
Finally, the letter strongly suggested that Lingner should be put on leave.
"As is typically done in such circumstances, and to ensure an exhaustive and honest review without additional allegations of retaliation, we trust that you have placed the Executive Director on administrative leave until the investigation is completed," the letter states.
The housing authority is a stand-alone agency, but each supervisor appoints one commissioner to oversee its operations. We'll be following up with commissioners in coming days to see if they intend to take the advice and audit help.
But we can tell you that the supervisors' concerns about "retaliation" may be legitimate. On the very day New Times was set to publish its story, sources tell New Times that Lingner convened a staff meeting. He allegedly told staffers that the story was coming out -- although he assured them the Arizona Republic wouldn't be following up on it. (Oops, wrong about that one, Doug.) He also allegedly told staffers that he knew exactly who had talked to New Times; he claimed to have read our reporters' notebook.
Suffice to say, two people terminated by the agency, Tania Huff and Will McFarland, were on the record with their concerns. It's no secret they talked to New Times. So unless Lingner hopes to scare people into not cooperating with investigators, we're not sure what he was up to with his boasting. We can only hope he's not trying to get retribution on any current employees he suspects of trying to undermine him.
Whether the people Lingner believes to be our sources will suffer retribution is still not clear. But at least we know that county management is taking this situation very seriously -- and offering its audit department to help get to the bottom of what's really been happening under Lingner's watch.