Housing authority’s pay, perks raise questions from Raleigh City Council

ccampbell@newsobserver.comDecember 27, 2013 

— The director of the city’s housing authority, Steve Beam, is expected to make his annual appearance before the Raleigh City Council in January, and several council members say they’ll have questions about his $240,000 salary and use of more than 20 compensatory days off each year.

Each January, the Raleigh Housing Authority must get the City Council’s approval for its “certification of consistency.” The document includes the agency’s short-term and long-range plans for the coming years.

For the past three years, that report has come on the council’s consent agenda – meaning it is approved with little or no discussion. But this year, Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said she expects the council will seek a full report on housing authority pay and leave practices.

The questions follow a series of News & Observer stories about Beam’s leadership at the Raleigh Housing Authority. A review of agency records found that Beam has been taking up to 11 weeks off each year – using a combination of vacation, sick and comp days – in part to pursue a side business as a well-respected magician specializing in card tricks. Beam travels to magic conferences across the country, often using comp time accrued by working beyond the standard 7.5-hour work day.

Beam, whose total annual compensation has reached as high as $280,000, has full support from his city-appointed board. He is one of the highest-paid housing directors in the country, and his pay is higher than the managers of Raleigh and Wake County, who oversee much larger budgets and staffs.

“The issue that concerns me is ... if somebody is highly compensated, you expect them to work long hours,” Baldwin said. “I would like a better understanding from the board on how they have measured that, and whether they’ve measured it against other agencies and looked at best practices.”

Mayor Nancy McFarlane – who is responsible for appointing the agency’s board but hasn’t made any new appointments since taking office – also says she wants answers from board members. She said that a leader who is out of the office 11 weeks a year is something “you just don’t see” in the public sector.

McFarlane said she also wants to take a broader look at the board’s makeup and see whether any changes are needed. Minutes from board meetings in recent years show nearly all votes are unanimous, and the board rarely questions Beam’s decisions.

“I want to look at who’s on there, and what is the background or expertise that that person brings to the board,” she said.

Councilman John Odom said that responsibility for any problems at the housing authority rests with the board. “If there’s blame here, it’s all with the board,” he said.

Odom said he’d like to see a broader review of executive salaries that includes city government as well. He said he’s concerned that agency executives get large annual raises, while police and firemen get little or no pay increases.

Odom, McFarlane and Baldwin all said they think Beam has done a good job at the agency. Housing authority board members have pointed to his record as justification for his annual raises and time off; they extended his annual vacation time earlier this year to 30 days. They point out that the agency has received 26 clean audits in a row as it razed 1,000 of the city’s worst public housing apartments while building several new complexes, for a net gain of 2,000 units.

Odom and Baldwin also said they see no problem with Beam running a magic business during his time off if he’s able to effectively do his day job.

“It all comes down to how do you manage your time and ensure your priorities are appropriate,” Baldwin said.

The City Council’s next meeting is set for 1 p.m. on Jan. 7. Beam said in an email this week that he’s not yet sure whether the agency’s plans will be presented at that meeting or the following session, which is scheduled for Jan. 21.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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