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Shannon To Leave Housing Authority With Full Pockets Exact amount of severance unclear

CHA debates whether to make info public, as required by law

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When Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA) head Harrison Shannon backs out of the agency parking lot for the last time, he'll take more with him than his old files.

Shannon, who resigned from the post earlier this year to pursue other opportunities, may drive away with a severance package that some speculate could be worth $100,000 or more. Housing officials wouldn't release the dollar amount Shannon will receive. The reason? Because they are unsure how to interpret sections of North Carolina's freedom of information law that apply to disclosing the amount of compensation employees receive. The law says that the dollar amount of publicly funded salaries at publicly funded agencies is public information. But the law does not address severance packages or other forms of compensation.

Shannon announced his departure in the midst of an authority budget process in which board members were struggling to figure out how to balance a budget that had been in the red for years. To balance its budget, the board had to slash jobs and make cuts to social programs to find money for upkeep to public housing units.

The money to fund Shannon's severance package would come from federal capital grant funds that could be used to renovate some of CHA's crumbling housing projects. Because the authority has been underfunded for years by HUD, it has an estimated $12 million to $25 million in renovation needs that must come from somewhere over the next few years to prevent much-needed units from becoming uninhabitable.

The money could also be used to replace some of the CHA staff whose jobs were recently terminated by the board in an attempt to balance the agency's cash-strapped budget.

CHA lawyer Mickey Aberman, who is also a member of CHA's board of directors, says he'd like to make the amount of the severance package public, but needs more time to determine if doing so would violate laws against disclosing government personnel records.

"We're trying to ascertain if the severance agreement can be made available to the public," said Aberman. "If we have any choice about it, it will be."

They don't, says North Carolina Press Association Associate General Council Amanda Martin. According to state law, says Martin, the amount of Shannon's severance package is public information. CL will continue to press its information request until the agency provides the information.

Aberman and other board members like board chairman Dick Van Dyke say that the package may seem extravagant, but that running the housing authority, which oversees the distribution of Section 8 rent vouchers and public housing projects in Charlotte, is one of the most difficult and frustrating jobs in the city. Giving Shannon the severance package will also help them recruit his replacement, they say, because candidates would be aware that Shannon left the agency well compensated.

Whether Shannon, who has led the authority for more than a decade, deserves the package, or is merely being paid to quietly leave an agency that has been wrapped in controversy, is anyone's guess.

CHA made headlines last year after a story in CL documented the chaotic state of the authority's waiting lists for various forms of public housing. A report documenting flaws in the way the organization managed money and assets -- some of which went unaccounted for -- also caused public relations problems and led some to question Shannon's competence as CEO of the authority.

Other employees who lost their jobs after the budget ax fell will also receive severance packages, but hardly of the size of Shannon's goldmine. Those employees will receive one week's pay plus benefits for every year they have worked at the authority, says interim CEO Charles Woodyard. The difference between those employees and Shannon is that Shannon wasn't terminated, but resigned.

Woodyard says that when the CHA board adopted the personnel policy that applied to regular employees they planned to terminate, they also adopted a separate one for executive level employees they allowed the board's president to use "broader parameters" when negotiating executive-level exit packages like Shannon's.

As of Monday, board members Eric Douglas and Kip Kiser said that even they weren't aware of the amount of Shannon's severance package. In addition to the package, the authority is also executing a consulting contract with Shannon that could last up to two years. When it's complete, says Woodyard, that contract will be made public.

Aberman said the agency is interested in retaining Shannon as a consultant because he is held in high esteem by the upper management of HUD and had a solid track record of securing grant money for CHA projects. *


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