The governing board of Little Rock's public housing authority named its sixth director in three years at a special meeting Thursday.
Ericka Benedicto, the city's former racial and cultural diversity manager, was appointed interim executive director with a 3-0 vote, with the absence of two commissioners.
She will lead the Metropolitan Housing Alliance for three months until the board finds someone to fill the director's position, and she will be paid $41,500, board chairman Kenyon Lowe said.
Andy Delaney, the agency's financial director since March and acting executive director since June, alerted the board of his impending resignation on Sept. 1. Today is his last day.
The notice, provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in response to a public records request, did not give a reason for Delaney's resignation.
Benedicto told the board she was grateful for the appointment.
"I understand that there are challenges, and my goal is to set the stage to bring solutions and really just bear good fruit," she said.
Lowe said after the meeting that the board chose Benedicto for her leadership skills. She has a master's degree from Webster University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Central Arkansas.
Before she worked for the city, Benedicto was an employee relations specialist at Baptist Health. She also worked as a volunteer with several nonprofits. Her professional history does not include public housing administration.
The Metropolitan Housing Alliance oversees about 900 traditional public housing units, 200 affordable housing units and 160 market-rate units. It also administers more than 2,000 Section 8 vouchers. It is the largest public-housing authority in Arkansas and provides housing assistance to about 8,000 low-income people.
The agency has seen frequent turnover in its leadership since November 2018, when Rodney Forte resigned as executive director.
Three other directors have come and gone since then, most recently Nadine Jarmon, who took the position on an official basis in April after nine months as interim director.
The board of commissioners suspended Jarmon with pay in June after she filed a 161-page complaint to the city and the local field office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging widespread misconduct by the board and calling for the removal of all five commissioners.
Delaney served as acting director since Jarmon's suspension and after the board fired her on Aug. 25.
Commissioner Leta Anthony said at Thursday's meeting that Benedicto's long career in Little Rock should benefit the Metropolitan Housing Alliance.
"Looking back at where we've been, I think that might have been a component that was missing, a love for this community, a love for the people," Anthony said. "It's hard to not do what's best for the people when you know who they are, because your kids go to school with their kids, you see each other in the grocery store, you worship with them and you fight some of the same battles as them.
It's hard not to feel for these people and understand their needs when you recognize that their needs exist."
The city hired Benedicto into the diversity manager post in March 2009.
Her job was to work with the city manager's office and the 19-member Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission on policies and events dealing with racial issues and promoting diversity.
Benedicto, who is Black, sued the city in 2014 for paying white managers with similar experience more than she was earning. An all-white jury decided in 2016 that the city did not discriminate against Benedicto on the basis of race.
She sought a retrial, claiming that the all-white jury pool violated a law that requires a jury to be composed of a fair cross-section of the community.
A city attorney said at the time that Benedicto's objection was too late, and a federal appeals court upheld the ruling in favor of the city.
Benedicto left her position with the city in July.