PHA has a lot more work to do

Michael P. Kelly left to take a housing job in the District of Columbia.
Michael P. Kelly left to take a housing job in the District of Columbia.
Posted: June 22, 2012

When New York City public-housing expert Michael P. Kelly rode into town in late 2010 and quickly began cleaning up the mess at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, it was unthinkable that he would be the first one to test his own ethical reforms.

But that's just what Kelly, 58, has done — by showing an appalling lack of judgment in conducting an extramarital affair with an agency subordinate.

His sudden resignation as executive director makes Kelly the second PHA chief undone by a sex scandal, following the ouster of his predecessor, Carl R. Greene, who authorized secret payments to three women to settle sexual harassment claims.

Yet it was Kelly who instituted long-overdue reforms that included zero tolerance of sexual harassment and discrimination and a ban on staffers' taking gifts linked to their jobs. In the wake of Greene's autocratic rule, Kelly also talked of promoting a "culture of respect" among agency staffers.

The greatest irony is that his reforms seem to have worked, inasmuch as Kelly was outed through an internal PHA inquiry. His admitted philandering — he's a married father of three — also came to light only a matter of months after federal officials overseeing the agency received a whistleblower's tip.

The probe was conducted by in-house investigator Kelvin Jeremiah, whom Kelly recruited to police the agency and, somewhat encouragingly, will serve as Kelly's interim replacement

By other measures, in fact, Kelly had been doing a good job righting an agency beset by controversy.

In addition to Greene's management, federal officials have been probing PHA's paying millions to politically connected law firms for outside legal counsel.

Since Kelly appeared to fit the bill as a capable manager for an agency that provides rental housing to thousands of low-income Philadelphians, his sudden departure inevitably represents a serious setback for PHA.

Without question, the scandal makes it clear that it's still too early to return the agency to the control of a local board of directors. HUD's continued oversight may be all that's keeping PHA from running off the rails again.

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