Curb appeal, that's what helps sell a home. Curb appeal is what's helped sell Carl Greene, the entrenched, now embattled, pasha of public housing to patrons, the community, and journalists.
People criticize Greene's lofty compensation package - $306,370 in salary plus a $44,188 bonus, when the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development makes $200,000. They question his behavior, including allegations of sexually harassing employees or soliciting hefty contributions from vendors for a dubious charity. But any time someone brings these matters up, boosters counter with a list of his accomplishments.
This is the same Greene who spent $1 million in two years on seven outside public relations experts, even though the agency had an in-house spokesman. When I inquired this month about his latest 15 percent raise and bonus, the spokesman's response was amended with a 14-point list of achievements.
Which reminds me of the Emerson quotation, "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."
What is forgotten is that Greene's agency, funded by your tax dollars, serves the city's poor while he is paid like a prince.
"Carl Greene would be considered the best housing authority director" in the nation, Gov. Rendell said Thursday. As mayor, he hired Greene in 1998 from Detroit.
Greene was facing a harassment suit then, as he's facing accusations now. "Those were serious, as all sexual-harassment charges are, but I did not think serious enough to warrant dismissal," the governor added. He praised Greene, saying he "has done more to improve the lives of poor Philadelphians, more than anyone I know. He's done a stunningly spectacular job."
It is entirely possible that Greene provided improved housing for Philadelphia's poor and proved a troubling manager, an autocrat ruling through fear and intimidation. He routinely fired officials who questioned his actions while exhibiting a preference for expensive spending practices that were self-serving and didn't aid the community he serves.
"People with bloody daggers are doing whatever they can to finish me off," Greene told The Inquirer's Jennifer Lin on Friday. He said his recent experiences had left him "more humble about the fragility of what it means to be human and the suffering of others."
PHA is a complicated entity: a state-mandated agency serving the city, funded mostly by federal tax dollars. A 2002 federal audit concluded that PHA had lavished $616,000 on lawyers and consultants in an attempt to thwart that probe, including private investigators perceived to have "shadowed" public auditors.
Greene's leadership is a shambles, having fallen apart in the last two weeks like a ton of bricks with almost daily revelations of possible misconduct.
A sexual-harassment complaint by a PHA employee now on leave. A bank foreclosure on Greene's $615,000 luxury townhouse after he missed three payments. His AWOL disappearance from work Monday and Tuesday, with a refusal to answer calls and e-mails from colleagues and PHA commissioners. The revelation of annual PHA gatherings, some honoring Greene's birthday and anniversary with the agency, where top staff and vendors felt compelled to attend and donate to his pet cause, Tenant Support Services Inc.
Greene's 10th-anniversary celebration in 2008 solicited vendors for $1,000, $2,500, and $5,000 TSSI sponsorships, which looks suspiciously like pay-to-play. "By doing so," the letter reads, "you will be honoring a man who has done so much for the citizens of Philadelphia."
The charity has assets of $1 million, according to an IRS filing for fiscal 2008, yet paid director Asia Coney an extravagant $101,000 salary and spent $90,594 for training and travel. In 1998, Coney, a tenant activist, was one of two women Mayor Rendell sent to Detroit to investigate sexual-harassment allegations after Greene was named PHA director.
Now it's time for a federal authority with juice to investigate PHA, TSSI, and Greene, who announced Wednesday that he was going on leave because of "physical and mental stress."
Certainly, serious oversight isn't being provided by the five-member board, whose relationship with Greene is so cozy that they might share a Snuggie.
Three of the commissioners - Chairman John F. Street, Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, and public housing tenant Nellie Reynolds - have PHA properties named after them or relatives, a case of keeping your friends close and your overseers closer.
The former mayor has a $4.2 million community center named after him at 1100 Poplar.
An apartment building for seniors at 2653 Glenwood Ave. is named for Reynolds. Her daughter, Jackie McDowell, you may recall, earned $100,000 working for the agency while residing in public housing and exaggerating her credentials.
Lucien E. Blackwell Homes, at 46th and Brown, are named after the councilwoman's late husband. Last month, PHA funded a "Commissioner Blackwell's birthday" barbecue for the homeless. Held on a workday, the event cost $7,000 and was staffed by 200 agency employees, some of whom say they were pressured to attend.
Is it any wonder that, when Greene went missing last week, Blackwell said she was "1,000 percent" behind him, though he failed to answer her calls and e-mails? She called him "a visionary."
When fawning board members bestow lordly compensation packages on the chief of a public agency serving the city's poor, they're asking for trouble. And when continual questions about behavior and practices keep dogging the agency and its leader, rot will follow.
Paid like a king, the boss behaves like one. Staff resentment builds. Officials may speak of the majesty of Greene's tenure, but that's curb appeal. Greene's reign, like a house that's all exterior flash, appears rotten to the core.