ATHENS COUNTY, Ohio — Under the tenure of a new acting director, the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority is moving forward after its former director’s arrest and indictment on charges related to theft from the organization.
AMHA attorney David Mott said the agency is working toward three main goals, which board chairperson Mary Nally described as “equally important.” These goals include continuing operations and serving clients, ensuring financial stability and implementing processes to “prevent future issues,” Mott said.
A grand jury indicted former AMHA director Jodi Rickard on Feb. 13 on charges related to her alleged theft of more than $1.5 million from AMHA since 2015. The agency’s last released audit indicates the housing authority took in $6.51 million in revenue in 2020 to provide housing for low-income residents of Athens County.
The organization is cooperating with an ongoing investigation by the Ohio Auditor of State, Mott said.
Stan Popp joined AMHA as acting director following a board vote on Dec. 21, 2022, according to meeting minutes. Popp spent 28 years at the Wayne Metropolitan Housing Authority in Wayne County, Ohio, and he resigned from a long-held position as director early last year.
“We are excited at the expertise that Stan Popp is bringing as an acting director,” AMHA chair Nally said in an interview. “The housing authority staff are working in cooperation with him to ensure that we’re moving business forward as usual, but also taking the opportunity to identify areas of improvement.”
Mott said in an email that Popp is an “ideal candidate” given his “proven track record, both as an executive director and as a consultant, of building housing authorities that are stable, successful, and highly impactful in their communities.”
Popp will focus on continuing routine operations and will also “identify opportunities to improve current policies and implement best practices to address those opportunities,” Mott added.
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Popp has previously worked in similar circumstances to those here in Athens County. In 2018, the Wayne housing authority assisted the Coshocton Metropolitan Housing Authority when that agency was the target of a federal investigation into the activity of its executive director. Popp was specifically assigned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help correct the housing authority’s course, the Coshocton Tribune reported.
Popp faced a complaint of housing discrimination on the basis of disability in 2021, though the Ohio Civil Rights Commission found that the occurrence of discrimination was not probable and dismissed the case. Popp did not respond by press time for a request for comment.
Nally said AMHA’s “commitment and reputation in serving those in our community with disabilities… is well known” and that Popp “has already demonstrated he shares this commitment.” She said the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s determination in the case is “consistent with the character and integrity Stan has shown as acting executive director.”
When the Independent asked Popp about the impact of Rickard’s alleged theft on AMHA’s services, Mott interjected: “That’s a question we have to be very careful about answering because the auditor of state is still continuing their investigation” and AMHA does not want to “jeopardize” the auditor of state’s work.
Mott provided a written statement responding to the question the next day: “A loss in the amount reported in Ms. Rickard’s indictment would certainly be expected to negatively impact any organization’s operations.
“However, because the loss occurred gradually over several years, there was no disruption or reduction in services provided to AMHA’s clients. What the loss has done is slow AMHA’s ability to expand its services to assist more of our neighbors who are in need of decent, stable housing.”
According to AMHA’s February board packet, 161 of 164 combined public housing and board owned properties were occupied as of Jan. 31. In January, the organization also oversaw 705 housing vouchers through the federal Section Eight Housing Choice Voucher Program, with 617 leased. The organization also oversaw multiple other, smaller voucher programs.
Erica Flanders, AMHA’s coordinator of property management and administration, estimated at the Feb. 21 board meeting that the Housing Choice Voucher Program alone had a waiting list of nearly 400 people.
Popp said at the February meeting that as the organization gets “squared away,” it will work to secure additional properties to help meet more residents with their housing needs.
During the February board meeting, Popp said that AMHA’s compliance with quality control requirements of the Section Eight Housing Choice Voucher Program lapsed in 2022. Specifically, Popp said that AMHA did not perform any quality control on housing inspections to ensure properties were up to federal standards.
AMHA was expected to conduct quality control evaluations on 5% of inspections. Popp said AMHA was in compliance before 2022, that the lapse would not affect the organization’s participation in the program, and that he has corrected the issue moving forward.
At AMHA’s January board meeting, the board authorized consulting services with BDO PHA Finance, which specializes in work with public housing authorities. Although the cost of services “will be considerable” according to meeting minutes, Popp said the services were “absolutely necessary to determine the financial status of the agency and get on track.”
At the February meeting, Popp reported that consultants were working to ensure accurate financial reports from the end of 2021 until now. Popp said more accurate financial information will be available soon.
Nally previously told the Independent, “AMHA is stable and financially sound, and we are operating as usual.”
AMHA has taken some immediate steps to change its financial processes. A resolution passed at AMHA’s January meeting closed the general fund from which Rickard allegedly stole because the account “has no good purpose.”
However, much of the organization’s changes to internal processes will flow from the results of its internal investigation and the investigation by the Ohio Auditor of State, Mott said.
“The things Ms. Rickard was doing had been concealed,” Mott said. “When we have a better handle on how it was being concealed, we’ll know what measures are appropriate to prevent it.”
According to an affidavit included in the December search warrants served on AMHA, Rickard’s activity was successfully concealed for many years in part through “a lack of Board monitoring” and “went undetected by the Board due to lack of reviews and monitoring.” The affidavit alleges the board saw only summary income statements and performed no review of bank accounts or reconciliations.
Matt Eiselstein, director of communications for the Ohio Auditor of State, previously told the Independent that the office’s investigation will focus in part on “the potential lack of internal controls that may have been present at the time of the crime.”
At its February board meeting, Popp discussed a number of additional changes he hopes to make to the organization. These include:
- Pursuing professional development for staff.
- Pursuing more thorough training for board members.
- Reviewing the organization’s use of management software and training staff on its use. During the meeting, Mott said that a representative of the software company, Yardi, told him Rickard “stonewalled” Yardi review and training during her tenure. However, he told the Independent that such review and training “wouldn’t have changed anything.”
- Implementing a five-year plan for AMHA as required for its participation in a capital fund program. Popp said the organization had “fallen behind” in 2022, and did not have a plan in place as required.
- Phasing out cash payments at the AMHA office.
- Continuing renovations after an electrical fire at AMHA’s main office building in September 2022.
At AMHA’s February board meeting, Nally thanked Popp for “sharing accurate information and sharing transparently” even when there are “gaps in the information that we have right now.”
Sam Stecklow contributed to this reporting.
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