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PHA board suspends Greene

Nathan Gorenstein, Jeff Shields, John Shiffman, INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS

Updated: Thursday, August 26, 2010, 6:14 PM

Philadelphia House Authority board chairman John Street (left) at Thursday's meeting, in which PHA Executive Director Carl Greene (right) was suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation. (Sarah J. Glover and Charles Fox / Staff Photographers)

The Philadelphia Housing Authority board suspended executive director Carl R. Greene Thursday while it investigates a series of sexual harassment claims that were settled in secret. The decision came just hours after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dispatched a team of auditors to scour the agency's books.

Philadelphia Housing Authority head Carl Greene at a new PHA construction site on the 1300 block of Marshall Street. (April Saul / Staff Photographer)
Philadelphia Housing Authority Executive Director Carl R. Greene along Poplar St. with PHA's Cambridge Plaza in the background. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010.
Carl R. Greene speaks about his current personal problems to press in front of the John F. Street Community Center on Friday, August 20, 2010. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)
Carl Greene addresses the media at a news conference he called in response to budget cuts from the Bush Administration in 2007. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Ed Rendell, Carl Greene, and John Street arrive for a press conference. (Jim Macmillan / Staff)
Carl Greene, Executive Director of PHA, is seen at the Richard Allen phase three housing project on July 25, 2002. (Jennifer Midberry / Staff)
Photo Gallery: The many faces of Carl Greene

On a day in which it was revealed that the PHA's insurance company has settled three harassment claims against Greene and is close to settling a fourth for nearly $900,000 in total, PHA Board Chairman John F. Street led the call for suspension and investigation.

The Board's five members - Street, City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, Patrick Eiding, Debra Brady and Nellie Reynolds - unanimously voted to suspend Greene pending the outcome of the investigation, which is expected to be completed in 30 days. Greene will continue to collect his $306,000 annual salary while on leave.

Street praised Greene's record, saying he turned PHA around and made it far more efficient at repairing tenants' homes and providing services.

But, he added, "He could have built a billion houses, but if he sexually harassed one woman, he's gone."

Street was also sharply critical of the agency for not informing the board about the four sexual harassment cases. The former mayor said he was "baffled" by Greene's recent behavior, which included failure to pay his mortgage and dropping out of touch with board members for several days.

Green's contract does not specifically cite sexual harassment as a reason for discharge, only misconduct.

"I think sexual harassment is misconduct," Street said, but insisted that the board had to do its own investigation before acting.

Greene's lawyer, Clifford E. Haines, was also at the PHA session and said that Greene would not be taking questions or be available for interviews by anyone while undergoing "medical diagnosis and treatment."

The board will use outside counsel, because of concern that information could have been withheld from the board by agency staff, Street said.

At the same time the board was preparing to meet, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's second-highest official, Deputy Secretary Ron Sims, dispatched a team of auditors to Philadelphia "to conduct an audit of PHA's financial and management operations."

"We are very concerned about the appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and so will be paying close attention to the team's findings," Sims said in a letter to Street. Mayor Nutter, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, and the PHA Board were copied on the letter.

Sims said he has asked the team to report back to him within 60 days with preliminary findings. "If recommended by the team, we are prepared to require a forensic audit of PHA's financial and management operations," Sims wrote.

"I urge you not to make any new appointments or management changes to PHA's senior team at this point, given the importance of this audit and the sensitivity of the allegations currently facing PHA and its leadership," the letter said.

HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Jerry Brown said in an interview that the request to make no senior PHA personnel changes.

"It means freeze," Brown said. "Stop. Halt. We don't want anyone appointed in the interim. We want personnel as is until we able to take a look."

Greene's suspension, however, would not go against those orders.

"That's fine with us," he said. "We would anticipate that a housing authority board would take an action like in a case of this nature ... So long as he still remains employed with PHA until this is resolved."

Brown said a team from HUD - not the HUD Inspector General - will arrive Tuesday in Philadelphia to review PHA financial and management records.

"We have taken measures to insure that everything remains as it is until our folks have an opportunity go through it all and make decisions on whether federal funds have been misspent," Brown said.

Nutter responded almost immediately with a news release promising his support.

"I commend the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its decisive action in announcing an audit of the Philadelphia Housing Authority," said Mayor Nutter. "As I outlined yesterday to Board Chairman John F. Street I am deeply concerned by the recent revelations regarding Philadelphia Housing Authority Executive Director Carl Greene and by the Board's oversight of the organization. I know that many Philadelphians share this concern and deserve answers to the many questions that have been raised. The City of Philadelphia will provide any help and support requested by HUD."

Sims is the second most senior official at HUD, according the HUD website, and "is responsible for managing the Department's day-to-day operations, a nearly $40 billion annual operating budget, and the agency's 8,500 employees."

Greene's employment contract with the Philadelphia Housing Authority says he can be fired for "cause" if his conduct results in "demonstrable material injury and damage" to the agency.

The five-year contract signed in 2007 also gives Greene, the executive director, six weeks of vacation, 11 holidays, and a car and driver for PHA business.

The PHA board is meeting this afternoon to debate Greene's future following the disclosure that since 2004 the agency has secretly negotiated settlements to four sexual harassment cases filed against Greene.

One settlement, for $250,000, is still tentative. Cash payments were made in the other three cases. The total cost is approaching $900,000.

Street has said the board was never informed of the allegations or the settlements.

Greene's contract says that if he is terminated "without cause" he will get 24 months salary.

The contract does not explicitly cite sexual harassment as a reason for discharge, raising the possibility that Greene would wage a legal battle for two year's severance if he is discharged for that reason.

Greene's current salary is $306,000, and he recently received a $44,000 bonus.

The PHA board is meeting this afternoon to debate Greene's future following the disclosure that since 2004 the agency has secretly negotiated settlements to four sexual harassment cases filed against Greene.

One settlement, for $250,000, is still tentative. Cash payments were made in the other three cases. The total cost is approaching $900,000.

PHA board chairman and former mayor John F. Street has said the board was never informed of the allegations or the settlements.

Sources familiar with the PHA board's thinking said the five members will likely vote to suspend Greene for 30 days while they conduct an investigation.

Greene's contract says that if he is terminated "without cause" he will get 24 months salary.

The contract does not explicitly cite sexual harassment as a reason for discharge, raising the possibility that Greene would wage a legal battle for two year's severance if he is discharged for that reason.

Greene's current salary is $306,000, and he recently received a $44,000 bonus.

Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.

Nathan Gorenstein, Jeff Shields, John Shiffman, INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS

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