From the Editor

Drescher: Everyone needs a boss

jdrescher@newsobserver.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Billy Ray Hall needed a boss. Steve Beam needs one.

Hall was president of the nonprofit N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, which for 25 years was largely funded with taxpayer money. The Rural Center was created by legislative Democrats in 1987 when Republican Jim Martin was governor. To get around Martin, legislators placed the center outside government and had the Rural Center’s president report to a board.

The board had 50 members. Some were appointed by legislators and the governor. Most were appointed by the board. Hall was a board member and recruited new members.

Hall and his board had a cozy relationship. The Rural Center funded many worthwhile projects. But the board’s oversight was less than vigorous. Hall resigned last summer, and the Rural Center lost state funding after a News & Observer series and a critical state audit questioned how the center spent state money. State auditors flagged Hall’s salary of $221,000 as “unreasonable.”

Raleigh businessman Bob Luddy, a board member, described a board meeting: “They spend an hour and 15 minutes praising each other for the amazing work they’re doing. And they spend 10 minutes to just ram these grant resolutions through, maybe five minutes.”

Oversight lacking

Steve Beam, executive director of the Raleigh Housing Authority, reports to a citizen board appointed by Raleigh’s mayor. Beam has been director since 1997. His total compensation has reached as high as $280,000 – higher than Raleigh’s city manager, who oversees a far larger operation. Beam also receives 30 vacation days a year.

The N&O reported that Beam took at least 20 comp days for four recent years – an unusual practice for an executive with his level of salary and responsibility. After reading the report in The N&O, U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican, asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate. “The thing that rang the bell the most with me was how much time he was away from the office and how much time off he had,” Holding told me this week.

Holding noted that Beam had moved to rename several Raleigh streets after magicians (Beam is a magician) without consulting his board – raising questions about how much oversight Beam received. The board said last week that Beam would no longer receive comp time and that it would revisit the street names.

Capable administrator

By all accounts, Beam is a capable and effective administrator. His board wants to keep him and says that since he has been executive director, the number of families housed by the agency has increased 57 percent (from 3,700 to 5,800).

That hasn’t kept up with the city’s growth. During that period, Raleigh’s population has grown 66 percent (from 255,000 to 425,000) and its population of poor people by more than that (Raleigh’s poverty rate has increased from 11.5 percent to 16 percent). As federal housing funding shrinks, the challenges are great. Beam’s absences – he’s been out of the office nearly three months of the year – show his board hasn’t set his goals high enough.

Kyle Dilday, board chairman, pointed out that board members are volunteers with limited time. A better structure, bringing more accountability, would be for Beam to report to Raleigh’s city manager (which the law allows). If that had been the case, you can bet Beam wouldn’t make more than the city manager and that Beam wouldn’t have taken 86 comp days in four years. Everybody needs a boss.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com.

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