It may be one of the hardest jobs in Annapolis - and it is up for grabs again.
P. Holden Croslan's resignation last week as executive director of the Annapolis housing authority means the agency's board soon will begin a nationwide hunt for a replacement to oversee the city's 10 aging public housing communities.
The new director will face a number of challenges: managing the agency's finances in tough economic times, improving the physical condition of neighborhoods that contain some of the oldest public housing in the nation and coming up with programs to help disadvantaged residents move into private housing.
But the new director also will have to fill the shoes of Croslan, a woman whose no-nonsense approach earned her as many critics as it did fans as she turned around an agency on the brink of bankruptcy and significantly improved its evaluation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The new chief also will have to navigate the murky political waters roiled by Croslan's departure, which was precipitated by new board leadership with new ideas for how the agency should go forward.
"The important thing is that whoever replaces Pat Croslan will have the right philosophy about the purpose of public housing and will be interested in promoting the growth and improvement of the communities that are managed by the agency," said Marita Carroll, a longtime housing authority board member and Croslan supporter.
By most accounts, Croslan improved the housing authority's administration during her tenure.
"We were a troubled agency when she came," Carroll said. "When she was interviewed, she was told what was expected of her. She felt she could do the job, and she did."
Croslan will say little about the circumstances of her resignation. But she takes pride in what she accomplished and praises those who worked with her.
"I can leave here feeling good and proud with what I was able to do with the assistance that I got during my tenure," she said. "The record speaks for itself."
A North Carolina native, Croslan lives in Annapolis and says she would like to stay in the area, although she has not yet made a plan for her future in the week since the decision was made for her to leave.
Croslan was picked from a field of more than 80 candidates to head the housing authority in 1998. She quickly drew praise for improving the finances and administration of the authority.
She fired nearly half of the agency's staff and evicted problem tenants. She saved money and tucked it away in a reserve fund that reached about $2 million. Now, the agency is ranked as a high performer by HUD.
But that does not mean that the financial picture for the agency is entirely rosy. Last month, the agency said that it expects its subsidy from HUD for the next fiscal year to fall by about $600,000.
And the city's 1,100 public housing units - some more than 60 years old - are perpetually in need of repair. The agency expects a new bond issue to net it several million dollars for renovations, and it will soon take over the New Bloomsbury Square development built by the state.
A new director will have to maintain the basics while taking the agency in the direction being pushed by new board members.
Trudy McFall, chairwoman of the nonprofit housing developer Homes for America, was appointed to the board and elected chair in September, after the General Assembly agreed with Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's request to expand the board from five to seven members.
McFall acknowledges that "commission leadership felt it was time for a change." Croslan was paid a year's salary to leave, nearly $105,000, paid over 18 months - a figure called for in her contract if she were to be terminated before its expiration in January 2005.
The board expects the search for a new director to take several months. In the interim, deputy director Clyde Caldwell will serve as acting executive director.
McFall said she wants Croslan's successor to join with residents and with other groups, including governments and nonprofits, to improve public housing. She wants someone who fosters cooperation - not a strong suit for Croslan.
The board also is seeking someone who can come up with innovative ways to accomplish the agency's goals and help residents move into private homes. One of the ideas being pursued by the board is installing private on-site management at some properties.
But McFall also is hoping that the new executive director is less of a personal target than was Croslan, whose attitude was criticized more often than her management decisions.
"We have had a fairly controversial director, and it might be helpful to not have the same sort of issues that have swirled around HACA now for a while," McFall said.
Moyer said she hopes the authority will hire a director who will work to build community spirit and a sense of neighborhood in the public housing communities.