PHA chief Carl R. Greene is fired

(John Duchneskie)
Posted: September 24, 2010

The Philadelphia Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners on Thursday fired Executive Director Carl R. Greene for his alleged sexual harassment of four female subordinates, ending his 12-year reign as the city's autocratic yet highly acclaimed public-housing czar.

Former Mayor John F. Street, the PHA chairman, described Greene as a "flawed genius" moments before the board voted, 4-1, to terminate his $306,000-a-year contract. An internal investigation had concluded that Greene was a "true serial sexual harasser" and had engaged in a cover-up with at least four key aides.

"He is like a great athlete with a drug problem. He is the Tiger Woods of public housing," Street said of Greene, whom he had staunchly supported before news of three secret sexual-harassment settlements worth $648,000 broke in August. A fourth settlement, for $250,000, had also been agreed upon without the board's knowledge, but not signed.

"He has a fundamental character flaw that will forever obscure his work as the greatest executive director in the history of the Philadelphia Housing Authority," Street said.

Greene, lauded here and across the country for revitalizing entire neighborhoods and remaking the face of public housing in Philadelphia, was suspended by the board in August with pay pending its review, which is now complete.

Greene initially went into seclusion and then signed himself into a medical facility in Maryland, where he was treated for stress.

His attorney, Clifford E. Haines, said Thursday before the board's vote that Greene was now being treated as an outpatient, but that he could not provide any other details on Greene's medical condition.

Haines, who has already sued the PHA board in federal court on Greene's behalf, said his client had never been asked for his version of events. He added that Street, as board chairman, did not have the "authority" to investigate Greene and release the results.

"The resolution of those disputes are in a courtroom. . . . They do not belong on a street corner," he said. "Doing it in a public fashion is not appropriate."

Haines accused Street, a lawyer, of acting unethically in issuing the board's findings and making public statements about Greene's conduct.

"He can't hold a license to practice law and act the way he is acting," Haines said. "I intend to notify the disciplinary board that his behavior should be reviewed."

Disclosures that Greene hid sexual-harassment settlements from the board and collected money through payroll deductions so that PHA-related nonprofits could hold parties in his honor have prompted a federal criminal investigation, according to sources.

PHA is also being audited by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides virtually all of the agency's $335 million annual budget.

Greene's longtime ally on the board, City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, voted against the resolution terminating his employment, saying the board should take more time to let investigative agencies do their work. She was particularly angered that the resolution referred to Greene's financial troubles as one reason for termination. Greene's precipitous fall from grace began in mid-August with news reports that he had been foreclosed upon by his mortgage company and had been the subject of an IRS tax lien.

"I believe our action is premature. We have no formal report. The investigation is ongoing," Blackwell said. "I believe every American has the right to due process."

The allegations against Greene were outlined in a report prepared by Street and shared Wednesday with fellow board members. The 12-page document characterized Greene as a "serial sexual harasser" who conspired with key subordinates to hide the sexual-harassment settlements from the board.

Two women filed back-to-back complaints in 2004 - Melissa Shingles, a senior management specialist, and Carolyn Griffith, a former general manager of finance. Moneke Thomas, also a senior management specialist, lodged her complaint with federal and state agencies in 2008. Each of the women described a similar pattern of harassment.

The most recent woman to step forward was Elizabeth Helm, an interior designer whose allegations, contained in a letter to the PHA board, helped ignite the firestorm over Greene's conduct and effectively pulled back the curtain on the secret handling of the harassment allegations against him.

"It is time for Carl Greene to go," Street said, recounting how Greene ushered in "the glory days of public housing" upon his arrival in 1998.

"I firmly believe Carl Greene did in fact sexually harass at least four women, and maybe more," said Street, who provided board members with two other reports of women whose accusations against Greene were previously found by an outside law firm to be unsubstantiated.

Based on all of the harassment evidence reviewed by the board, Patrick J. Eiding, regional head of the AFL-CIO and appointed to the board by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, said he had confidence in Street's investigation.

"We have done a fair evaluation," Eiding said. "The mere fact that the professionals and Carl Greene contrived ways to go around the board" would be a ground for dismissal.

Others "aided and abetted . . . but the person who drove the car was Carl Greene," he said.

Mayor Nutter said Thursday that he had expected the board's action, but asserted that board members still needed to explain how they could have failed to detect anything wrong at the agency.

"It appears that the board has found out any number of things over the last few weeks - fairly easily - that they claimed to have known nothing about for the past six years," said Nutter. "It is clear to me that the board must accept some amount of responsibility for an apparent lack of managerial and operational oversight with regard to the executive director, and possibly other staff at the authority, and . . . should explain in more detail their 'We didn't know anything' defense of themselves."

The mayor gets two appointments to the PHA board, the city controller two. The fifth member is elected by the other four. Street appointed himself to the board when he was mayor, and his term expires next year. Blackwell's term has expired, and Nutter can reappoint her or replace her at any time. Members are unpaid.

Board member Debra Brady, a businesswoman and wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city's Democratic chief, said that, in hindsight, she could not come up with a different strategy that would have penetrated Greene's cloak of secrecy.

"We didn't feel the need to micromanage him. We thought life was great," she said. "And now we know different."

In the board's report, two current PHA lawyers - general counsel Fred Pasour and chief of staff Shelley James - were cited for conspiring with Greene to conceal the sexual-harassment complaints. Street also identified two former employees, Michael Leithead and Sibyl Bryant, as complicit in Greene's schemes.

Joe Tucker, an attorney for Bryant, blasted Street for impugning his client's reputation without first hearing her side of events.

Tucker said Street shared the blame for Greene's behavior. "He knew," Tucker said, "or should have known."

Tucker said Bryant had "worked hard to build a reputation, and to have it tarnished is unfair."

Greene was recruited from the Detroit Housing Authority in 1998 by then-Mayor Ed Rendell to take over an inefficiency-plagued housing authority - despite a pending sexual-harassment complaint against Greene filed by a subordinate in Detroit. It would be settled out of court in 2000, while Greene was building a reputation here as a tough taskmaster, unafraid to fire a subordinate or upbraid an employee in public.

Assisted by changes in federal housing policy, Greene launched an ambitious makeover of the city's public-housing facilities. Seven giant, crumbling, and often crime-ridden public-housing projects that had marked the Philadelphia skyline for decades were demolished and replaced with townhouses that had parking and lawns.

The result, however, was fewer units, and housing for fewer poor Philadelphians. The 714 units of the multitower Martin Luther King Plaza near Broad Street in South Philadelphia were demolished in 1999 and replaced by 163 apartments.

The largest and most expensive project overseen by Greene is visible to thousands of motorists each day as they drive through South Philadelphia on the Schuylkill Expressway. The run-down, barrackslike rowhouses of the Tasker Homes have been replaced by the Greater Grays Ferry Estates, completed in 2006. The development has 554 units, including a community center, and was built at a cost of $165 million.

Despite reducing its inventory from 21,000 to 16,000 units, PHA remains the fourth-largest housing authority in the nation, with about 84,000 residents in 50 developments and about 4,000 scattered-site homes. There are 1,200 employees.

Board member Nellie Reynolds, the tenant representative elected by the four other board members, said it was "deeply troubling" to vote to fire the man she regarded as a son.

"I think we've given more than due," she said.

Street said the board had not yet dealt with the employees implicated with Greene, but Reynolds said, "Heads will roll.

"We will leave no stone unturned," she said, "until we find everyone who was involved in this conspiracy."


Contact staff writer Jeff Shields

at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.

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