Investigate the PHA board

At a meeting before the Philadelphia Housing Authority board, Clifford E. Haines, attorney for beleaguered executive director Carl R. Greene, addresses board members (from left) Patrick Eiding, Debra Brady, Jannie L. Blackwell, Nellie Reynolds, and John F. Street, the chairman. (Laurence Kesterson / Staff Photographer)

The Philadelphia Housing Authority board took appropriate action in suspending executive director Carl R. Greene, pending an internal investigation into the cash settlements of four sexual harassment cases brought against him.

But if there are to be investigations, the PHA board needs examining as well.

How was the board not informed of the four sexual harassment cases and settlements totaling nearly $900,000? Was it kept in the dark? Or did it avoid knowing about Greene’s foibles?

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said Greene’s reputation for sexual harassment and verbal abuse of employees was well known in public-housing circles. A sexual harassment case brought against Greene in Detroit was known before he came to Philadelphia.

Broader questions remain about the board’s due diligence, conflicts, and cozy ties to Greene.

Board member Debra Brady has missed 11 of 15 board meetings since February 2009. The wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Phila.) reportedly has health issues. If that is the case, she deserves sympathy. But if she can’t perform the very basic function of showing up, she should resign.

Board member Patrick Eiding, head of the regional AFL-CIO, missed six meetings during that time. He, too, appears unable to fulfill his basic fiduciary responsibility.

Other board members have conflicts that may have impacted their ability to provide proper oversight and due diligence.

Nellie Reynolds, 81, a public housing resident on the board since 1984, is chauffeured to meetings by a housing security officer in a PHA car. A $21 million public housing complex is named for her. Her son is employed by PHA, making about $60,000 a year. Her daughter used to work at PHA, at $100,000 a year, while receiving a $250-a-month utility allowance, and paying $650 a month in rent to live in a PHA home.

Board member and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s stepson, a former state representative, used to rent a PHA house for his legislative office before losing his seat in 2008. PHA also contributed $4 million toward a community center that is named after Blackwell’s late husband.

Board chairman and former Mayor John F. Street has a PHA community center named after him. His son, Sharif, worked at Wolf Block, a law firm that billed PHA more than $8 million for work over three years before closing last year.

Reynolds said Greene’s great work transforming public housing blinded the board. His weaknesses and the board’s are now coming into full view.