Greene has friends on PHA board that will decide his fate

Nellie Reynolds is chauffeured around the city by a PHA police sergeant in a car owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's stepson, Thomas Blackwell, ran his state legislative office out of a PHA home, with a pack of PHA maintenance workers at his beck and call.

Former mayor John Street's son, Sharif, worked for the Center City law firm Wolf Block that billed PHA more than $8 million in legal fees in three years before the firm shut down in March 2009.

Not to mention that Reynolds, Jannie Blackwell and John Street all have PHA community centers or housing projects named for them or a relative.

The three sit on the five-member PHA Board of Commissioners, which today will decide the fate of PHA Executive Director Carl R. Greene - who has showered them and their relatives with perks and favors galore.

The three, along with the two other commissioners - Debra Brady and Patrick Eiding - have put Greene on a pedestal. Some board members hail Greene as perhaps the nation's most successful housing director.

Now, some question whether these same people can objectively address allegations surrounding Greene and why they seemingly failed to police Greene and PHA.

Even Mayor Nutter, in a tersely worded letter to John Street, PHA board chair, zeroed in on the board's lack of supervision.

"What's needed is the bright light of public scrutiny on an authority, which sadly may be suffering from a lack of appropriate oversight," Nutter wrote.

The controversy started two weeks ago with news that the IRS had filed a lien against Greene for $52,000 in back taxes and that he was facing foreclosure on his $615,000 condo.

Greene took care of the lien and mortgage payments, but a firestorm ignited after news broke that four sexual-harassment cases have been filed against him. Three have been settled for a combined $648,000, and PHA's insurer agreed last week to a $250,000 payment in the fourth. Street said Greene and other top PHA officials kept the board in the dark about complaints and settlements.

"If there was some evidence that the board knew and did nothing, then that's one thing," Street said yesterday. "If there is evidence that the board didn't know, then the question is, 'Should the board have known and why didn't it know?' "

"We don't have all the answers," Street said. The board apparently doesn't know quite a bit.

For instance, Street said he was unaware that the U.S. Department of Labor is investigating allegations by PHA construction and maintenance workers that Greene is violating federal wage laws.

"There is an open investigation being conducted by the department's wage-and-hour division," agency spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins confirmed.

Carpenters, for example, have complained that Greene is violating a federal "prevailing wage" law by paying them $24.50 an hour, instead of the mandated $35.01.

In an interview yesterday, Reynolds defended her record and characterized herself as an objective watchdog.

"Everything I've gotten, I've earned all the way," Reynolds said. "It doesn't cloud my vision whatsoever."

She said her PHA driver, Sgt. Pauline Randolph, who makes about $64,000 a year, chauffeurs her to "meetings and developments."

Reynolds, 81, said Randolph sometimes takes her to other places she needs to go. "I have to have help sometimes," she said. She has lived in a PHA two-bedroom house in Johnson Homes for about three decades. In 2008, Greene cut the ribbon for the $21.2 million Nellie Reynolds Gardens, a 64-apartment building in North Philly for seniors.

Her son Steven is a PHA maintenance supervisor who makes roughly $60,000 a year, and used to live in Johnson Homes but has since moved. Her daughter Jackie McDowell used to make $100,000 a year as a PHA manager and still lives in a PHA-owned house in West Philly.

Reynolds said her family simply grew up in public housing, got jobs and moved up. "It's part of the American dream," Reynolds said. "That's what we fought for. That's our motto."

It was Jackie McDowell who hooked up Jannie Blackwell's stepson - Thomas Blackwell - with a newly renovated PHA house to use as his legislative office, according to Thomas Blackwell.

Three PHA maintenance workers who requested anonymity told the Daily News that a PHA supervisor regularly ordered them to the house at 3148 W. Berks St. whenever something broke.

"You're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars of PHA material and labor," one worker said.

Thomas Blackwell, who lost his seat in 2008, said that the state paid rent to PHA for use of the house but that he couldn't recall the amount. Kirk Dorn, who is paid $10,000 a month as a PHA spokesman, did not return phone calls or e-mails yesterday from the Daily News. Thomas Blackwell is now a constituent services aide for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., making about $50,000 a year.

Brady's wife, Debra, is a PHA commissioner. She reportedly missed 11 of 15 board meetings between February 2009 and June 2010. A spokesman for Brady said she missed meetings because her mother was ill.

Councilwoman Blackwell grew testy yesterday when a reporter asked about the $4 million that PHA kicked in for a $11.9 million community center named in honor of her late husband, U.S. Rep. Lucien Blackwell. PHA also has plans for "Jannie's Place," a 40-unit, $7 million transitional housing development.

"You people are fishing, fishing, fishing and it's sad," she said.

PHA Commissioner Eiding, who heads the regional AFL-CIO, has not returned calls from the Daily News. He reportedly missed six of the 15 meetings between February 2009 and June of this year.

Staff writer Chris Brennan contributed to this report.