A POWERFUL LEADER refuses to step down, despite increasing - and official -calls for him to do so, amid questions of the soundness of his leadership.
Has Philadelphia Housing Authority become Libya on the Delaware?
John Street, chairman of the Philadelphia Housing Authority board, and his fellow board members came under fire last week when Ron Sims, deputy director of Housing and Urban Development, took the extraordinary action of requesting that the PHA board step down. HUD said the recovery of the housing authority would go much faster if the board stepped down and if PHA had an oversight authority "not burdened with responsibility for actions of the past."
The board's response - We're not going anywhere and besides which, HUD fell down on the oversight role too, so why should we resign if they won't? -would be remarkable if it wasn't so, well, Philadelibya.
Let's review: The five-member board presided for years over a reign of terror and harassment by Executive Director Carl Greene, who not only secretly settled sexual harassment suits but engaged in questionable management practices and even more questionable spending on parties and perks, like high-end luggage for PHA managers.
And while Greene kept much of this activity from the board overseeing him, it's fair to fault the board for having lax enough controls that so much could go on without its knowledge. That would be a failing of any board, but it's an especially big one for a board that oversees so many public dollars.
Given the cards that HUD holds - it provides nearly all of the housing authority's $367 million budget - the fact that this board still refuses to budge is both an outrage and an affront. Do its members think that they are the only qualified people to sit on this board? (That's hard to grasp, especially given that one board member has missed half of the meetings in the last 10 years.)
The board is not paid, but a recent Inquirer report showed that John Street voted on PHA legal contracts with Wolf Block, his son's law firm. Sharif Street did more than $700,000 worth of legal work for the agency. John Street, whose actions might have violated state law, claimed he had a waiver from HUD to deal with the conflict; HUD says he had no such waiver.
Surely someone who spent as many years in public office as Street has would know that even if such a waiver could ever exist, he should have recused himself from voting on such deals. Or maybe asked to see a copy of the waiver before he voted on the contracts. That lapse alone makes calls for his resignation more than fair.
As for the rest, it's time for the appointing authorities of these board members to get involved. Street appointed himself. Controller Alan Butkovitz has two appointments - Debra Brady and Patrick Eiding. Until the end of Street's term, Mayor Nutter has a single appointment, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, whose term has expired. The board appoints a PHA resident as the fifth member.