Decatur housing director overpaid herself nearly $32,000, state audit says

By: - November 14, 2022 9:00 pm

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LINCOLN — The executive director of a small-town Nebraska housing authority overpaid herself nearly $32,000 over 38 months, according to a recent state audit.

The Nebraska State Auditor’s Office has forwarded its findings about Nicole Small, who worked as head of the Decatur Housing Authority until March of this year, for possible criminal prosecution.

Small’s salary, the audit stated, was based on how many units of the authority’s 24-unit Maple Villa Apartments were occupied each month. Her pay was about six to seven times higher, per unit, for occupied apartments as opposed to unoccupied ones.

Paid higher rate for occupied apartments

From January 2019 to March 2022, the auditor’s report said that Small had paid herself a gross salary of $90,650, when it should have been $58,760 based on the occupancy of the apartment building — a difference of $31,890.

Deputy Auditor Craig Kubicek, in his report, said it also appeared that some checks issued to Small may have contained forged signatures of the authority’s board chairwoman, Susan Houck, who is also Small’s mother.

Phone calls to Small seeking comment were not answered on Monday.

But her mother, Houck, said she had talked to her daughter, who told her she didn’t understand that she had done anything wrong.

I don’t really think it was intentional thing,” said Houck, a former postmaster in Decatur, a village of 408 people about 67 miles north of Omaha.

The audit, issued Nov. 1, said the authority board’s minutes indicated there were vacant apartment units for at least 24 months of the 38 months reviewed, yet Small paid herself for a fully occupied facility for those months.

She had also paid herself the higher 2022 rates in 2021 for fully occupied apartments, which was $75 per unit per month instead of $70, the audit said. By contrast, her pay for unoccupied units was $13 and $10 per month, respectively, per unit, for those two years.

The audit also questioned spending of $190 on a Christmas party for tenants and staff, and $102 for Easter hams for tenants.

Houck said the housing authority’s board of directors has a meeting coming up to decide how to proceed.

The audit recommended that the Decatur Housing Authority provide additional oversight of finances so that one person alone is not able “to perpetrate and to conceal financial errors or irregularities, including fraud.”

Other possible violations of law identified in the audit were forgery, theft by deception and official misconduct.

The findings of the audit have been forward to the Nebraska State Patrol, Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission and the Burt County Attorney’s Office for their review.

Burt County Attorney Edmond Talbot III did not immediately return a phone call on Monday seeking comment.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.