The audit was ordered after fired PHA executive director Carl R. Greene was accused of hiding the expenditure of $684,000 to secretly settle three sexual harassment suits against him. Greene was also said to have spent spent $33 million on lawyers from the city's most connected firms. His lavishness reportedly included hiring belly dancers for a PHA function.
The allegations exposed a PHA board that wasn't paying proper attention to Greene's handling of the agency. Perhaps its members were mesmerized by his success in otherwise running the housing authority. From March 1998 to September 2010, Greene presided over a period of unprecedented improvements in the quality of housing for PHA tenants.
HUD replaced the inept, five-member board with a single member, HUD senior adviser Estelle Richman, who was Pennsylvania's welfare secretary during the Rendell administration. A new, nine-member board has been appointed by Mayor Nutter. Previously, the mayor only made two appointments, with the city controller making two, and the board itself appointing a fifth member.
The new board includes tenant, civic, religious, and legal leaders. Lynette M. Brown-Sow, a former deputy mayor who is now a Community College of Philadelphia vice president, will serve as its chairwoman. Also on the new board is the city's chief integrity officer, Joan Markman, a former U.S. attorney, who can be expected to lend an ear to whistleblowers and forward their concerns to appropriate authorities.
Other board members include Leslie D. Callahan, pastor of St. Paul's Baptist Church; Bonnie Camarda, a director for the Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware; Nelson A. Diaz, a former city solicitor; Herbert Wetzel, a City Council analyst; Kenneth A. Murphy, an attorney with Drinker Biddle & Reath; and PHA residents Shellie R. Jackson and Vernell Tate.
Each new member should bring fresh ideas to the city's public housing strategy. They must be strong advocates for the agency's main mission who can avoid micromanaging the agency while not allowing themselves to be cowed by its bureaucrats. If the board is strong, it can meet the challenge of providing Philadelphia an efficient, smart, compassionate housing authority.