Inquirer Editorial: Poor oversight spawned Greene settlement

Carl Greene
Carl Greene
Posted: February 27, 2013

Fallen Philadelphia public housing chieftain Carl Greene said in a deposition last year that he had been having trouble finding work. Perhaps unrealistic expectations were part of the problem. After all, Greene's last job allowed him to face repeated sexual harassment allegations, disappear from the office indefinitely, and then extract a half-million-dollar bonus from his employer.

Last week, the city Housing Authority agreed to pay Greene $625,000 to settle a breach-of-contract claim in his 2010 firing. The agency had paid its lawyers more than $1 million to arrive at that unappealing figure, but officials were bold enough to portray it as a victory given that Greene had demanded as much as $4 million.

From his puzzling inability to cover his own house payments to his strikingly controversial approach to managing the female members of his workforce, Greene's alleged shortcomings are well documented. Now the failings of those who hired and were supposed to manage him are written in lost taxpayer dollars and services to the poor.

While the authority's present management opposed a settlement, it couldn't get around a contract that prohibited Greene's firing except for "demonstrable, material injury and damage" to the agency, as The Inquirer reported this week. Former Mayor John Street, who served as chairman of the authority's board, testified that he and the other board members had drafted an even better contract for Greene just a month before he vanished in a flurry of alarming headlines.

The result is reminiscent of the late Arlene Ackerman's ouster in 2011 after a short, tumultuous tenure as Philadelphia schools superintendent. Another benighted board, the School Reform Commission, extended Ackerman's generous contract just a few months before it set about getting rid of her. It ended up costing taxpayers nearly $1 million to buy her out.

In both cases, it seems, commissioners abdicated their responsibility to oversee the chief executives and represent the public. In return, the executives may have looked the other way as some board members reaped petty benefits from the agencies they were supposed to be managing. Street, for example, had an assistant on the Housing Authority's payroll and a son doing some of its legal work.

A new Housing Authority board, nominated by Mayor Nutter and approved by City Council, promises to be less prone to such sweetheart arrangements. That several Council members objected to its inclusion of the city's chief integrity officer, Joan Markman, suggests exactly how we got here in the first place.

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