Ronnie Polaneczky: 24/7 public servants: ticking time bombs

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I HAVE SO had it with public servants who are breathlessly described as "24/7."

You show me the man or woman, paid with citizens' dollars, who is said to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for "The People," and I'll show you someone who needs to be watched.

Very, very closely.

Case in point du jour: PHA czar Carl Greene, whose fanatical dedication to the job - former mayor John Street has called Greene a "24/7 executive director"-has been accompanied by some pretty astonishing behavior.

Few people dispute that under Greene's direction the Philadelphia Housing Authority has been transformed from a slumlord agency to an organization that provides dignified housing for the poor.

"I don't think it's an understatement to say now that PHA is the best in the nation," crowed Gov. Rendell, who brought Greene here from Detroit.

What we didn't know, until Greene's self-described "personal failings" became salacious news these past two weeks, is the dark, sloppier side of this $350G-per-year workaholic.

Greene has been the target of four sexual-harassment lawsuits - three have settled, one is almost there. And he's been taking work on the side - hence that $52,000 tax lien from the IRS - and not telling anyone about it.

I'm sorry, but whenever someone claims to be working 24/7, we shouldn't be surprised when they turn out to be frauds and liars, because the claim itself is a lie.

"I wouldn't trust someone who says they work 24 hours a day," says therapist Edward P. Monte, Ph.D., an executive coach, family-business consultant and expert on matters relating to workplace weirdness.

"It's just so grandiose," Monte said. "And it can lead to a sense of self-righteous entitlement. That's what's going on when you hear those stories of ministers who sleep with half their congregation. They have an air of, 'Look at me, look at how hard I work. I sacrifice so much for everyone. I deserve to take what I want.' "

All of Greene's misbehavior, astoundingly, went down without the knowledge of his bedazzled board of directors, a gaggle of do-nothings made so complacent by Greene's 24/7 persona that two of them - Debra Brady and Patrick Eiding - rarely dragged their behinds to board meetings.

But, hey, don't whine to board chairman Street.

"You can always criticize the board," he snipped to the Inquirer. "No one was criticizing us when we were building houses. If Carl hadn't gotten himself involved in this trouble, Carl would still be building houses, and we'd still be a good board.

"We wanted him to run his agency," said Street. "We weren't going to be micromanaging the executive director."

But isn't the job of a "good board" to do more than not micromanage its executive director? Didn't this "good board" feel a responsibility to build strong relationships with Greene's underlings and vendors, so that PHA minions might feel confident about going over Greene's head with matters of real worry?

Like those sexual-harassment claims. And troubling allegations that vendors and employees felt compelled to donate to Greene's obscure personal charity, in honor of his birthday.

I guess, when someone's on the job 24/7, a birthday Cookie Puss from Carvel just won't cut it.

The big problem with workaholic, 24/7 personalities is that they eventually lose grip of where their public responsibilities begin and their private privileges end.

Says local leadership coach and psychologist Nicole Lipkin: "If you're working that hard, you're bound to start making bad decisions, because you lose perspective. It can make you feel not just entitled but bitter."

"Bitter" sure describes the parting demeanor of our last 24/7, publicly humiliated public servant.

I'm talking, of course, of Vince Fumo. Currently cooling his heels in federal prison for using Other People's Money to finance a life that was supposedly dedicated, at every moment, to the citizenry, Fumo embodied the very worst of the 24/7 myth.

He used our money to maintain his multiple homes. Tend his goat farm. Spy on political foes. Transport his luggage to Martha's Vineyard.

And all of it was to be excused, in Fumo World, because it was technically in support of the citizenry.

If Fumo slept better at night, knowing his ex-girlfriend was being tailed by a private investigator paid for with public money, well, wouldn't that help him wake refreshed enough to put in another hard day for us?

When you see yourself as working 24/7, everything becomes a deduction. Including, apparently, your understanding of where the boundary is that separates right from wrong.

That's why I am worried about Arlene Ackerman. The famously well-compensated Philadelphia School District CEO isn't in any legal trouble. But she's starting to talk about herself in ways that give me the willies.

Recently questioned about taking advance pay for unused vacation days, she responded tartly, "I give 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I hope people can move past focusing on me and look at the results."

We would, Ma'am. Except that it hasn't always worked out well for us.

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/polaneczky. Read Ronnie's blog at

http://go.philly.com/ronnieblog.