PHA board shuts down Greene, with pay; HUD will audit

during meeting at which the board suspended Carl Greene while it probes sex-related complaints by four women.
during meeting at which the board suspended Carl Greene while it probes sex-related complaints by four women.
Posted: August 27, 2010

JOHN STREET recalled lazing on a beach in Hawaii just 13 days ago, when Carl R. Greene was still regarded as the exalted leader of the best housing authority in America.

"Boy, have things changed!" Street said yesterday in an unprecedented meeting of the five-member Philadelphia Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, which he chairs.

Board members not only suspended Greene - with pay - while it investigates four sexual-harassment complaints against him, but they banished him, effectively shutting him out of the agency he lorded over for more than a decade.

"All of Mr. Greene's access to documents and to the [computer] network has been terminated," Street said. "He doesn't have any access to any information . . . . He's completely cut off."

At the same time yesterday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would dispatch a team of auditors to scour PHA's financial books and dissect the agency's management operations.

In a letter to Street, HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims wrote, "We are very concerned about the appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and so we will be paying close attention to the team's findings."

HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said that auditors would arrive on Tuesday. Brown said a key focus of the audit would be whether federal funds were used to pay the agency's insurance policy.

The board also received a subpoena yesterday for documents from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is working with the FBI, the Inquirer reported today, quoting sources.

Street said memos have been sent to PHA staff to preserve documents and computer files.

Sexual-harassment claims of three women have been settled for a combined $648,000, and a PHA insurer agreed last week to a $250,000 payment to a fourth woman. Street and other board members have said they had no knowledge of any of the women's complaints, or the settlements.

"It surprised the heck out of me," said PHA board member Patrick Eiding after the meeting. "How could he have been paid that kind of money and never told us about it?

"How could it be handled without coming to us?"

Mayor Nutter said he hoped that the PHA and HUD investigations would provide answers.

"I think the board must give a better explanation as to how they could be so uninformed about such serious and grave allegations," Nutter said. "Now, with HUD stepping up and announcing it will conduct its own investigation, we will start to get to the truth. We will start to get a better understanding of how PHA functions and operates."

Yesterday Greene's attorney, Clifford E. Haines, told the board that Greene, who is still getting paid his $306,000 salary, was "undergoing medical diagnosis and treatment" out of state.

"He will not be available to anyone," Haines said.

After the meeting, Haines said, "I haven't asked him about the claims made against him. I want him to get better. . . . I've got to focus on his health and well-being."

Under the terms of Greene's employment contract, he can be fired for "cause," which could include "willful and intentional misconduct, recklessness, gross negligence and a failure to substantially perform his duties."

But Greene's contract appears to provide some cover in cases resulting from his "incapacity or illness."

When a reporter asked Street if he viewed sexual harassment as "willful and intentional misconduct," he said, "I think sex harassment is misconduct. I do think it's misconduct."

When asked if he thought Greene's medical treatment was part of a legal maneuver, Street replied: "I always think that what people do is in accordance with a plan. However, if, and I want to be delicate here, if Mr. Greene's conduct over the last week or so is . . . some strategy, he's been getting some really, really bad advice."

Board Commissioner Nellie Reynolds, a longtime public-housing tenant, said she always viewed Greene as a bit of a Casanova.

"He appeared to be a ladies' man," she said. "People like men in power. . . . They acted like he was the pope or Jesus."

In light of the allegations against Greene, Reynolds said an investigation was warranted. "I don't believe now that it's a witch hunt by the news media," she said. "Usually if it smells bad, it's not too good. . . . I was amazed. How did he get away with it?"

Reynolds said she and others were blinded by Greene's many accomplishments. During his 12-year tenure, he tore down crime-ridden high-rises and replaced them with attractive, suburban-like developments with grassy front yards.

"He did so much good, so you can't see your nose for your face," she said. "You don't want to believe it."

Street said it's sad that Greene's legacy could implode under a dust cloud of shame.

"As much as we love the work that the executive director did, he could have built a billion houses, but if he sexually harassed one woman on his staff, he's gone," Street said.

"One woman."

Street said the board, which will meet at least weekly, hopes to conclude its investigation within 30 days.

"We are going to hire whatever additional staff that we think we need in order to be able to ask the questions and get the information that we need," Street said.

"We don't take this as a license to go out and hire a whole bunch of expensive, very costly experts, but we are going to need some help to do this," he said.

Before the meeting, Street distributed a textbook-thick binder to board members. It included a "primer on sexual harassment," which listed different personality types of harassers.

Among them was the "Seducer-Demander": The Seducer-Demander is a "power player" who actively plots sexual encounters using his or her position to do so . . . and they broker favors for sex as their way of keeping people in their "proper place."

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