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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Metropolitan Housing Alliance Executive Director Rodney Forte (right) listens to Kenyon Lowe, the board chairman, during a meeting of the Little Rock Housing Authority Board of Commissioners in this 2015 file photo. - Photo by Rick McFarland

The Little Rock housing authority board pushed the executive director to resign earlier than he intended, and he completed his last day of work Wednesday.

Executive Director Rodney Forte's employment with Metropolitan Housing Alliance ended at 5 p.m. Wednesday, although he requested to stay on staff through Jan. 31.

Alliance chairman Leta Anthony said Forte resigned because the board denied bonuses for housing authority employees, although he said he's leaving to join the private sector.

Since Oct. 18, Forte has asked twice for $266,000 to give out in employee bonuses. The board denied the first request.

Forte added the bonuses to the agenda for a special meeting intended for interviewing a potential board member on Nov. 1. Board members voted to amend the agenda to remove the request.

"I was not happy with that decision, but that was a board decision," Forte said. "I certainly cannot do the work without the team and the hard work they do."

When he requested the money, he said he wasn't asking for a bonus for himself. Anthony said she needed more information, such as how much each employee would get.

"There's too much uncertainty in the agency," she said in an interview at the time.

Anthony also said a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Quality Assurance Division made her cautious. The department regulates and funds local housing authorities.

The report, released in May 2017, stated that in 2016 employees received bonuses ranging from $100 to $7,000 apiece without board approval.

Since then, the alliance has submitted a HUD-approved plan to correct mistakes outlined in the report.

While the board searches for a new director, Marshall Nash, the director of administrative and legal services for the alliance, will serve as a special adviser to the board. Nash also supervises the agency's human resources department.

Anthony said she hopes to call a meeting to discuss replacing Forte within the next two weeks. Nash did not return phone calls or emails asking for comment.

Anthony said the decision to move Forte's resignation date from Jan. 31 to the close of business Wednesday was so the housing authority could move on.

"The sooner we dealt with that matter, the sooner we can move forward," she said.

Forcing Forte's resignation earlier than he had requested was the first decision two new board members made. Monique Sanders and Lee Lindsey were appointed to the board Monday.

"I'm still not on an even keel," Lindsey said after the meeting. "I think I've got a lot to learn."

Forte said that after a clean audit report, a good performance review and the closure of a $70 million deal to renovate three public housing towers, the timing was right to resign.

"It was just a good time for me personally and professionally to pursue other ventures," Forte said.

Forte is leaving the agency during a time of transition. The three public housing towers that are being remodeled -- Jesse Powell, Cumberland and Fred W. Parris towers -- are also being converted from public housing to Section 8 and will be part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. The switch will allow the agency to partner with private businesses and supplement income from the federal government.

Under Forte's tenure, Little Rock also became one of the nation's 28 pilot cities for the ConnectHome program, an unfunded project that teaches residents how to use computers.

"We've had a good run," Forte said. "It's time for me to be a little selfish for me and my family."

Forte worked as executive director for nearly six years and made $133,000 annually.

Forte was arrested on a misdemeanor charge in 2014 after failing to comply with public records requests from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the state Freedom of Information Act. Forte had also attempted to charge the newspaper more than $16,000 to comply with the request. The law allows public agencies to charge only the actual cost of reproducing the records needed to fulfill a request.

Forte was later acquitted by a jury.

Over the past few months, the agency has been responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Photo by Democrat-Gazette file photo
Metropolitan Housing Alliance Executive Director Rodney Forte is shown in this file photo.

CORRECTION: The Metropolitan Housing Alliance towers in Little Rock are switching from public housing to Section 8 and will be a part of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the type of program.

A Section on 11/08/2018

Print Headline: Little Rock housing chief told to resign his post early

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