On a fall afternoon, hundreds of Philadelphia Housing Authority employees piddled away the workday at a Bucks County fun zone where they played laser tag, shot pool and bowled, and grazed on fresh salmon and roast beef.
Money for the all-day field trip came from a fund established by PHA Executive Director Carl Greene. Roughly 300 PHA staffers pay $2.12 each week to the fund, which Greene dubbed the "Pennsylvania Institute of Affordable Housing."
The $2.12 fee, automatically deducted from paychecks of nonunion PHA staffers, does not include an additional $300 to $600 that senior staffers say they're expected to kick in each year for gifts and events celebrating Greene - his birthday, his employment anniversary and Christmas.
Staff gifts to Greene have included a regal oil painting of their boss, an expensive watch and a big-screen TV, at least eight former and current PHA employees told the Daily News.
In 2006, Greene created the "Pennsylvania Institute of Affordable Housing" and at the time, he named his spokesman, Kirk Dorn, as "president" and "tax responsible party," state records show.
Dorn, who now works for PHA on contract, said yesterday that he actually served as fund "secretary" and was no longer connected with it.
The fund's purpose is to "provide education to the community," according to a state corporate filing.
But four times a year, Greene taps into the fund to throw events that include excursions to the zoo, the Brunswick Zone XL in Feasterville, and barbecue cook-offs.
Former and current employees told the Daily News that they felt forced to pay into this fund and that Greene and PHA supervisors prodded them to play hooky on taxpayer time.
"We're compelled to join and you can't quit," said a PHA manager who requested anonymity. "You don't have a choice."
"There were no statements, no public accounting of the money," said a former PHA senior staffer.
Yesterday, Dorn described the fund as a "professional development" opportunity for staffers. He estimated that about 300 employees pay $100 annually to the fund. As of last night, Dorn could not provide financial statements requested by the Daily News.
Dorn said the fund pays for social and educational events. He said that when staffers go on the outings, they are on company time.
"PHA feels it's a team-building day. It's a legitimate use of managers' time," Dorn said. "You get to know each other better.
"It's a very positive thing," he added. "People are voluntarily joining a group and paying $2 a week to join something that is going to improve their careers."
Asked why the fund's name suggests a statewide organization, Dorn said: "Our plan was to reach out and form a network of similar entities. We really didn't get that far."
Greene is at the center of a growing firestorm that began last week, when news surfaced that he had stopped paying the mortgage on his upscale $615,000 condo and had recently paid off a $52,480 federal tax lien.
On Wednesday, Greene, who last year earned $306,370, plus a $44,188 bonus, announced that he was taking a leave from PHA.
The leave came amid allegations that he had sexually harassed a young, attractive PHA architect. In addition to the architect, Elizabeth Helm, at least five other female staffers have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since 2004. The women alleged that Greene had subjected them to sexual harassment, verbal abuse, retaliation and sex discrimination. Greene has denied those allegations.
In an April 21 letter to PHA, John M. Elliott, an attorney representing Helm, accused Greene of improperly using his position for "his personal benefit," including soliciting cash and personal gifts from PHA's employees, vendors and law firms." Elliott sent copies of the letter to Gov. Rendell, Mayor Nutter and former Mayor John Street, who is the chairman of the PHA Board of Commissioners.
At a news conference yesterday, reporters asked Rendell about the allegations against Greene.
"Mayor Street, who remains as [board] chair . . . and the board will take whatever appropriate action they feel is appropriate," Rendell said. "But, gosh, Carl Greene has improved the lives of poorer Philadelphians more than anybody I know."
Charles Gaskins, who worked as Greene's assistant general manager of operations in 2004, said he left PHA after he was expected to kick in $100 for Greene's lavish Christmas bash.
"I wasn't going to pay for his party. That's the reason I left," he said.
Richard Zappile, the PHA chief of police, was responsible for collecting money for Greene's parties, PHA staffers told the Daily News. Zappile did not return a phone message last night.
A former senior PHA staffer who requested anonymity said Zappile collected $125 from him for a party in 2008 to mark Greene's 10th anniversary as executive director.
At the party, held at the Greater Grays Ferry Estates, staffers presented Greene with an oil-painted portrait of himself, with a pensive, almost presidential expression. The roughly 3-feet-by-2-feet painting was framed in a dark, rich wood.
That night, staffers also presented college-scholarship money to a few teens who lived in PHA housing. The money came out of the $2.12 weekly fund, according to the former senior staffer.
Last fall, busloads of PHA staffers flooded the Brunswick Zone XL on Street Road in Feasterville.
Jon Antonelli, Brunswick Zone general manager, said PHA staffers filled all 48 bowling lanes and lounged in the Brunswick Bar & Grill, where they enjoyed "a nice buffet spread" that included salmon and sliced roast beef.
Antonelli said PHA staffers competed in teams against each other. They played billiards and video games, and bowled to win prizes, he said.
They also played laser tag, which Brunswick Zone bills as "a heart-racing game of skill and strategy," where players have to "watch out around the next corner or you may get tagged. ZAP!"
"We should not have been getting paid while on a field trip," the former PHA staffer said. "We were still drawing our salaries for that.