The mysterious expiring PHA appointees

Blackwell and Nutter

In the ongoing saga of the Philadelphia Housing Authority and executive director Carl Greene, Mayor Nutter has appeared to be hamstrung by having two appointees on the board that he didn't appoint -- former Mayor John F. Street and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

Street is Nutter's arch-rival and Blackwell is Council's top maverick.

Street ensured his appointment on the board, apparently through 2012, by reappointing himself to another five-year term in the summer of 2007, his final year in office. His original term expired in September 2006, according to a 2008 version of the PHA's website, which is not longer available. If that information is correct -- a PHA spokesman did not return calls on Wednesday -- then Street allowed his appointment to remain open before reappointing himself.

The state law governing the Housing Authority allows members to continue to serve beyond their appointment: "A member shall hold office until his successor has been appointed," the law reads.

By waiting, and then reappointing himself, Street assured that he, as chairman, would influence PHA policy through September 2012. What happens to Greene, and the choice of a potential replacement, could very well pit the old rivals against each other again.

Nutter was not happy about Street's 2007 maneuver.

"Certainly, as a term is winding down, the filling of key board positions, with all due respect, there should be consideration for the incoming executive," Nutter said on Tuesday. "It is a time-honored tradition at both local, state and the federal level that people in high profile, significant board or commission positions, more often than not, offer their resignation to the incoming executive...just to give him or her the opportunity to make those appointments."

There may be an argument that Street is filling an unfinished term that should end in 2011. But that provision remains unclear, said City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who reappointed one of his two appointees, Debra Brady, last year. Butkovitz said he would reappoint the other, Patrick Eiding, when his term expires next month.

Then there's  Blackwell, who was raised in the Richard Allen Housing Development and whose dedication to housing issues is well known. She also continues to be Carl Greene's chief defender, whom she calls "a genius."

Nutter was clearly unclear about her status over the past few days. His spokesman Doug Oliver, said the Mayor thought her term expired in 2009, but the website said her term ended in September 2008. Blackwell said she isn't sure. Blackwell was originally appointed to replace Ed Rendell in May 2002, to Rendell's unexpired term ending in September 2003. Her reappointment to a five year term at that time would take her to 2008.

Nutter on Wednesday said he was requesting documents from PHA about exactly when Blackwell's term expires, but that seems a moot point now. What is important is whether Nutter will keep Blackwell as his lone voice on the board, or uses his leverage with Blackwell to have his way regarding Greene's future.

Nutter's spokesman, Doug Oliver, said Nutter "didn't have a problem with her work."

But, apparently, that could change.

"It's safe to say that any appointment to the PHA board will be made in the context of recent developments," said Oliver (The Inquirer reports today that four sexual harassment lawsuits against Greene cost nearly $900,000 to settle). "To the extent that it will play a role is not known because the answer to the questions [about Greene's behavior] are not known."

Blackwell, a fierce advocate for affordable housing and for the homeless, said she told Nutter on several occasions early in his term that she wanted to stay on the board.  "It's my life, it's what I do, it's what I believe in," she said. "It's who I am."

One more uncertainty remains. Nellie Reynolds, the tenant representative elected by the four other board members, has a term that expired in April 2009, according to the old web page, and it's not clear whether the Board reelected her or she's also working under an expired term.

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