No comp time for Raleigh Housing Authority director in new contract

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 27, 2014 Updated 6 hours ago

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Steve Beam, far left, and members of the Raleigh Housing Authority board meet with News & Observer editors Monday morning.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Board will launch review of magic street names

    Despite the Raleigh Housing Authority board’s strong support for Beam, members said they’re revisiting one of his recent decisions: renaming streets in the under-construction Walnut Terrace community after obscure magicians.

    Some criticized the move, saying it was inappropriate for Beam to pick names that reflect his personal hobby. The board will appoint a committee of community members and housing authority staff to suggest other potential names.

    Beam had named the streets – Hofzinser Court, Houdin Alley and Count Elmsley Street, among others – without review from his board. He said he chose the magical names to highlight the construction of the complex without federal grant money – a success that some considered to be “magic.”

— The Raleigh Housing Authority has approved a new contract with agency director Steve Beam that curbs his use of comp time and doesn’t include a raise this year, board members said Monday.

The move means Beam won’t be able to accrue time off when he works beyond a 7.5-hour workday. He’d drawn fire for using up to 20 comp days a year, much of it accrued by logging additional hours during a typical workweek.

Coupled with vacation and sick leave, Beam has been taking up to 11 weeks off per year and pursuing a side business as a card-trick magician.

Board members announced the new contract – approved last week – in a meeting Monday with editors and reporters at The News & Observer.

Comp time, board Chairman Kyle Dilday said, “doesn’t exist for Mr. Beam anymore. He gets paid, he does his job – regardless of the number of hours.”

Instead of comp time, Beam will be able to take full days off in exchange for weekend travel to housing conferences and other professional events. That “administrative leave” must be approved quarterly by the agency’s board and used in full-day increments; Beam said he anticipates earning about 12 to 14 administrative leave days each year. Those days are in addition to his six weeks of vacation and 12 sick days per year.

Beam said his out-of-town travel has paid off for the housing authority. When federal officials sought to take back $3.4 million from the agency’s funding reserves, Beam used his contacts from serving in the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association to set up meetings in Washington.

“Raleigh didn’t lose a penny,” he said, adding that the money was used toward rebuilding the Walnut Terrace community. “I think that’s a case where the weekend work does pay.”

The new terms announced Monday mark the first time Beam’s contract has been updated since he became executive director in 1997. His original contract doesn’t address comp time directly but notes that he’s included under the agency’s personnel policy, which allows all salaried employees to earn and use unlimited comp time.

The new contract, which followed three closed-door negotiation sessions and runs through January 2016, also keeps Beam’s base salary at $240,000. It’s the first year since his hiring that he hasn’t received a raise. He received no bonus in 2013, with his total compensation – including longevity pay, car allowance and a supplemental retirement contribution – last year totaling $272,040. His compensation has reached as high as $280,000 in past years, making him one of the highest-paid housing directors in the nation.

But although Beam won’t get a raise in the new contract, board members say he’s had a strong record of success leading the housing authority. At the same meeting last week, the board issued a five-page resolution praising Beam and highlighting his accomplishments.

The board members noted that Beam restored the agency’s reputation after two residents died from carbon monoxide poisoning at Walnut Terrace in 1992. He’s overseen $90 million of construction as the agency razed three aging, crime-ridden public housing complexes and replaced them with mixed-income communities.

‘Leadership and vision’

Between its public housing properties, Section 8 vouchers and affordable market-rate rentals, the agency now houses 5,800 families – 2,100 more residents than the agency had when Beam took charge, though the number of traditional low-income public housing units has dropped. The agency’s past 26 audits have come back clean.

“These realities are due in large part to the leadership and vision of Mr. Beam, who has led the Raleigh Housing Authority to become one of the best housing authorities in North Carolina and the United States,” Dilday wrote to the Raleigh City Council last week.

Doris Wrench, a board member who lives in the agency’s Carriage House senior community, said she’s seen dramatic improvements in quality of life for housing authority residents over the past decade. She points to safer living environments and lower crime throughout the agency’s properties.

‘New blood’ important

The changes announced Monday drew praise from Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, who’d been critical of the agency’s comp time policies and other actions.

“I think they took the concerns very seriously and tried their best to come up with new policies to make people feel more comfortable,” she said, adding that she supports the move to allow Beam administrative leave. “If somebody is traveling and doing something over a weekend when they normally would be off, it’s reasonable to provide some compensation.”

Going forward, Baldwin said the City Council will keep a close eye on plans to remove 60 units of public housing from the federally funded Capitol Park community near downtown, and she expects Mayor Nancy McFarlane to consider some new board appointments, possibly adding more diversity to the mostly white panel.

“Consistency in the board is important, but having new blood is also important,” Baldwin said.

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

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