As the sexual harassment scandal engulfed then-Philadelphia Housing Authority boss Carl R. Greene, his supporters all pointed to how he had helped transform the city.
Gov. Rendell, who as mayor hired Greene, called him the best public-housing director in the country. Former Mayor John F. Street, now the chairman of the PHA board, called Greene a "flawed genius."
Mayor Nutter's appointee to the PHA board, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, said she was behind Greene "1,000 percent" when his troubles first surfaced. Blackwell was the lone board member to vote against firing Greene.
The profuse praise for Greene stemmed largely from PHA's dismantling of high-rise public housing and building of mixed-income, suburban-style, single-family homes and townhouses.
To be sure, the quality of public housing in Philadelphia improved under Greene. The surrounding neighborhoods have benefitted from the changes as well. But the impetus to dismantle the hulking high-rise buildings was not Greene's brainchild. It came from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and was done across America.
In fact, Greene's oversight of PHA's $347 million budget while it was happening is questionable. The Inquirer on Sunday detailed how he spent lavishly on upgrades and last-minute changes that drove up the costs of projects.
The cost of the 8,000-square-foot pavilion at the Wilson Park public-housing complex increased 55 percent, to $2.8 million. The increase was due in part to a $448,700 upgrade from brick to granite for the building's columns; $55,680 to have a canopy dyed a special shade of tan; and $49,000 for an audiovisual system.
Greene spent an extra $201,578 to move the ductwork in a multipurpose room at the John F. Street Community Center because he thought it cluttered the space.
In 2005, Greene spent $500 each on new purple uniforms for 200 PHA managers. The employees didn't like the uniforms, though, so they were ditched after two years.
More broadly, PHA consistently spent far more to build public-housing units than they were worth. Of course, that isn't a new problem, but one that has been around for years in Philadelphia and other cities.
But while PHA was overspending under Greene, the waiting list for public housing in Philadelphia has increased fourfold since 2001, to 100,000 people. One reason is PHA built housing with less density. But how many more units could have been built if money weren't getting wasted on granite columns and audiovisual systems?
Street and other PHA board members say Greene hid the sexual harassment allegations as well as the settlements from them. That may be true. But there was no hiding Greene's extravagance. Neither the PHA board nor HUD has an excuse for being blind.
In fact, the PHA board approved some of the added expenses, which again raises questions about its oversight of the hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars spent annually by PHA.
Greene may have abused his authority, though he has denied any wrongdoing. But people with the power to raise questions and oversee how Greene was spending money fell down on the job.
Going forward, PHA needs new management and a stronger board. As the housing agency's main funder, HUD also needs to exert better oversight. Better checks and balances will help ensure tax dollars aren't wasted.