Philadelphia Housing Authority aide to board chairman unusual among boards in city

Lawyer Kafi Lindsay was hired to report on the Philadelphia Housing Authority for Board Chairman John F. Street.
Lawyer Kafi Lindsay was hired to report on the Philadelphia Housing Authority for Board Chairman John F. Street.
Posted: September 10, 2010

As board chairman of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, former Mayor John F. Street insisted that the agency hire an aide who reported directly to him instead of to Executive Director Carl R. Greene.

Such an arrangement appears unusual for someone in Street's role, according to people who have chaired boards at several Philadelphia organizations.

"My jaw dropped. It makes no sense that a board chairman is insisting that someone be hired in an organization on the theory that he needs someone who is loyal to him," said Richard Bazelon, a lawyer who chaired the city's Redevelopment Authority (RDA) for 17 years, starting in 1984.

Mayor Nutter, who currently chairs the RDA, and labor leader John J. "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, who chaired it before Nutter, said they had never asked to have someone hired there to report to them. They declined to offer their opinions of Street's decision.

Representatives of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, Philadelphia Gas Works, and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a quasigovernment agency that promotes economic development, all said there were no employees at their organizations who were hired at the request of, and who reported to, the board chair.

On Thursday, The Inquirer reported that Greene had hired private detectives to conduct surveillance on Kafi Lindsay, a lawyer who worked at the PHA for $55,000 a year as an aide to Street.

Greene suspected that Lindsay was not showing up for work, which she and Street denied.

Street said he had hired Lindsay because without her, he was dependent upon Greene to have basic staff work performed. "If I wanted a phone call made or answered, I had to get someone in his office," Street said.

After Thursday's PHA meeting, Street called Greene's investigation of his aide "a red herring."

"We have a whole lot more serious things to do," he said. "In the total realm of things, it really is a kind of small thing.

"As far as I'm concerned, she does a great job; she showed up for work," Street said. He called the issue a "distraction."

Last month, Street and his four fellow board members suspended Greene with pay for 30 days after allegations arose that Greene sexually harassed at least four women, and that he settled three of those claims for a total of $648,000 without board approval. The fourth case, also negotiated without board approval, has been tentatively settled for $250,000, although no papers have been signed.

A federal grand jury in Philadelphia is investigating whether PHA misspent federal tax or charity money, as well as whether vendors felt obliged to donate to charities Greene favored.

In a twist, Lindsay is helping Street conduct a PHA investigation into Greene's tenure as executive director.

Gov. Rendell was chair of the PHA board before Street, and he helped hire Greene. Asked whether Rendell had anyone at the housing agency who answered to him when he was chair, spokesman Gary Tuma said, "No, he said he did not and he never would."

Greene's lawyer, Clifford E. Haines, said his client had hired Lindsay only after Street "insisted."

Charles Elson, director of the University of Delaware Center for Corporate Governance, said it was not standard for board chairs to ask to have people hired to report to them.

"A dispute between the chairman of the board and a chief executive is not healthy for an organization and is typically resolved by one or the other or both leaving," Elson said.

Bazelon said board chairs should rely on organizations' general counsel to keep them informed. "It's inconceivable that an organization that is halfway properly run could have this kind of situation," Bazelon said.

Walter D'Alessio, chairman of the board of the PIDC, declined to comment on Street's decision but said that when he had a question about the agency he chairs, "I pick up the phone and call the president, Peter Longstreth."

At the PPA, spokesman Marty O'Rourke said Board Chairman Joseph Ashdale "has no employee that works for him or any other board member. All employees work for the executive director, who reports to the board."

Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he did not have a personal assistant at the RDA because he didn't need one.

"I had a very active executive director," Dougherty said. "I had a very active and readily involved board with me, and I also had the staff inside the RDA that had transcended many mayoral administrations that were very good at what they did."

He said he thought it would be unfair to judge chairs at other organizations because they all have different needs, workloads, and reporting requirements.

But at least one Philadelphia organization, the School Reform Commission, brought in its own person when financial trouble surfaced in the school district.

In 2006, James Nevels, who chaired the commission, appointed its own internal auditor, James P. Doosey, after Paul Vallas, who was superintendent, surprised the commission with news of a $73.3 million deficit. Doosey reported directly to the SRC, not Vallas.

The SRC has a $3 million budget, part of the district's $3.2 billion budget, and 25 employees. The employees report to the SRC, not Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard did not return a call seeking comment on whether Doosey or anyone still held that job.


Contact staff writer Miriam Hill

at 215-854-5520 or hillmb@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Susan Snyder, Kristen A. Graham, and Jeff Shields.

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