Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Hamilton housing official resigns

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - A board member at the troubled Butler County Metropolitan Housing Authority announced Monday she has quit amid fraud accusations, less than a week after a scathing federal review found several major flaws in finances, reporting, tracking and other practices at the agency.

Heather Komnenovich, 31, of Hamilton said the authority board's chairman, Middletown attorney Vincent Sanzone, asked her to resign last Wednesday - the day the report was released - for "fraudulent behavior."

Mr. Sanzone asked her to step down, she said Monday, because she didn't report her income to Section 8 housing officials. She said she didn't think she had to report her income, insisting that Section 8 housing officials misadvised her.

Ms. Komnenovich lives in Section 8 housing in Hamilton - housing that is not operated by the Butler County Metropolitan Housing Authority, she said.

Former Hamilton City Manager Steve Sorrell appointed her to the board a year ago.

"What happened is I didn't report my income, but I was told I didn't have to," she said. "Then I was having some personal issues and ... it all just came to a head. I am just now currently getting the help I need."

Mr. Sanzone declined comment Monday, other than to say he had not received her resignation.

"I did not know what she was going to do about the resignation issue, though she told me she would be resigning," he wrote in an e-mail to the Enquirer.

But Ms. Komnenovich insisted Monday she told Mr. Sanzone last week she quit after he asked her to.

She also said she quit in light of the negative review that U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials gave the authority.

"I said, `Well, Vince, there's more issues than you can possibly believe and I am trying to get those issues taken care of, but if you want me to step down, I will,'" she recalled Monday.

"Then after I got the report, I decided to. I don't completely agree with the report. It was kind of a slap in the face for me."

Leonard M. "Tony" Blaine, the housing authority's executive director, did not return a call for comment Monday.

Last week, a 35-page federal review criticized the authority's operations, saying it lacks leadership and qualified staff and board members. An estimated 400 people are on a waiting list for units.

HUD officials gave the authority a year to complete its recommended improvements to come out of its current "troubled" status. Only one other housing authority in the state has been declared troubled, according to HUD.

In their report, HUD officials noted that authority board members have had little or no formal training in their roles or in HUD program requirements. They are experiencing "significant differences of opinions internally" and "need to work on being a more cohesive unit," the report reads.

"The board's inexperience and inability to work together leads to poor choices and allows major issues (to) go un-addressed," the report states.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.

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