Interim Jefferson housing director decries agency’s climate
“The people don’t seem to be the concern. ... For no lights to be on back there and nobody pay attention to it, that was just amazing to me.” Dalton simmons, interim executive director of the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority
Marrero — The toxic political climate surrounding the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority drove interim Executive Director Dalton Simmons to resign after less than two months on the job, and he says the need to help the parish’s poor residents has been lost in the political scrum.
Simmons abruptly resigned his position a few days ago. He took control of the authority in late September after Barry Bordelon, the previous executive director resigned amid swirling accusations of waste and abuse following a federal audit. Bordelon has since been rehired by the authority in a new position, but Jefferson Parish President John Young has called for him to be fired.
Simmons came to the authority from Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court, and he said he took the job because he was interested in doing something for the families he saw every day in his old job. He touted his efforts to get street lighting restored in the authority’s Marrero development after residents suffered through pitch black conditions for months. He said he’s worked to get buildings repaired after Hurricane Isaac because he really cares about the public housing development’s residents. But the constant controversy surrounding the authority, all of it predating Simmons’ tenure, was too much for him to deal with, he said.
“That’s not something I want to put my family through,” Simmons said. “I don’t want to be caught in the middle of all the political stuff.”
The housing authority has been dogged by scandal since an audit this summer by HUD’s inspector general questioned nearly $700,000 in spending by Bordelon. Some Jefferson Parish Council members lambasted the authority and its board of commissioners and called for the removal of three of them. Young later began an investigation into all of Bordelon’s activities and requested that he be fired from his new position as maintenance supervisor. Bordelon was hired into that new position by his former assistant just before Simmons was hired.
Young was disturbed to learn that the board is already considering Simmons’ replacement. The board has formed a subcommittee tasked with reviewing applications for the job, a position Simmons said he never applied for. Young said the board has lost the confidence of officials and residents and should hold off on making major decisions.
“There should be no rush to hire a new director,” Young said. “Right now anything this board does is suspect.”
Patrick Pierson, the authority’s spokesman, did not return a request for comment.
But Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears said the rush to condemn the board and the authority as a whole is what contributed to Simmons’ departure. He said Simmons obviously had no interest in continuing at the authority, but he disagreed with Young that the board should wait on hiring a new director. The authority needs strong, competent leadership right now, although Spears said it will be interesting to see how parish officials react if HUD fails to uphold the findings of its inspector general in November.
“I wonder what’s going to happen with all this stuff the parish is saying,” Spears said.
Simmons said he hopes the focus eventually shifts back to the residents at the housing authority. The next director is going to need the support of all of the parish’s leaders to provide quality service. Simmons said he never got that support because of issues beyond his control. He said he could have made even more positive changes because he knows what the authority’s residents really need.
“Within a month it was something every week,” Simmons said about a tenure he called “disastrous.”
“The people don’t seem to be the concern… For no lights to be on back there and nobody pay attention to it, that was just amazing to me,” he said.