The city promoted Leon Mason from deputy safety service director for community programs and affairs to director of the Building, Housing and Planning Department. Mason, hired in 2012, is expected to begin his new job next week.
However, Mason and Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Wednesday that Mason has been handling many of the duties since Rey Carrion quit as director in May to take a private-sector job. Ritenauer said Mason has drawn on his extensive knowledge of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations learned while grants coordinator for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland.
Ritenauer, who said the deputy job will be filled in the next couple of months, said Mason’s experience played a “huge role” in his selection from among nine applicants. Ritenauer said Mason is respected and well-liked by HUD officials because of his experience.
“In that department right now, the federal program side really needs the emphasis,” Ritenauer said. “Getting the block grant dollars (and) putting them to use in our community.”
Mason, a 1993 Lorain High School graduate who earned a political science degree from Cleveland State University in 2002, began working for Brown as a constituent liaison in 2004. After a brief stint as executive director of the now defunct Lincoln Community Center, he served as Brown’s grants coordinator from 2007 until being hired in Lorain.
Mason said knowing HUD regulations is critical in his new job.
“Unfortunately, the city lacked that,” Mason said, referring to problems with public bidding procedures in recent years with HUD’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs. The HOME program involves building and rehabilitating affordable housing.
The 39-year-old Mason, who will earn $75,345 annually, will oversee a 17-member department formerly known as the Community Development Department. The department merged with the Building Department last year.
Mason said he’ll focus on continuing code enforcement efforts to reduce blight and update zoning codes, which haven’t changed since 1985. Mason said he hopes he can rehabilitate the department’s reputation tainted by former director Sandy Prudoff.
In June, Prudoff was released after serving about 21 months of a two-year sentence related to influence peddling. Prudoff, a longtime director, retired under pressure in 2009.
Prudoff in 1984 replaced Frank Mason, Leon Mason’s father, as community development director. Frank Mason, Lorain’s first black community development director, now works for HUD in Jackson, Miss., and is scheduled to retire this year, according to his son.
Besides restoring its reputation, Leon Mason said he wants to make the department more business and resident-friendly. “I’m willing to listen to people and their suggestions,” he said.