Board members say that at the next meeting they would like to take steps to release the executive director when his contract runs out on May 31. They also hope to reinstate two commissioners who were recently asked to step down by HUD, the federal agency that oversees the projects.
The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 24.
Michael Stefano, the recently-installed board chairman, said last week that he planned to forward a resolution that would deny E. Troy Washington, the agency's executive director, a contract extension and begin a search for someone to take his place.
"I personally have no problem with him," said Stefano Wednesday. "He has been very cooperative with me. But the feeling between him and the board and between him and the residents is not amicable right now. Even though he has done some good things, we are looking to go in another direction right now."
But Washington, who until last week had declined to comment on the forces against him, said last week that the move seems political. There is a mayoral election in May, and all three potential mayoral candidates have started coming to HHA meetings.
"I just think it is a shame that these politicians are using the housing authority for votes and just as a forum to further their political ambitions," Washington said.
Washington joined the staff at the HHA three years ago when he was hired to serve as comptroller. Within a year he was promoted to executive director. During his two-year tenure he has angered a number of tenants as he tried to reform the way that the 1,300 unit complex does business.
Some of his reforms have been greeted with near-universal praise, like an agreement with the Hoboken police department that allows city police officers to patrol inside the agency's buildings on a regular basis. Some reforms, like the executive director's efforts to put new roofs on several of the buildings, have received mixed reviews.
Others have sparked real anger.
Last year, Washington spearheaded an effort to adopt a new lease that would require tenants to pay premiums for so-called luxury items like more than one television set. Although the executive director ultimately backed down from the changes that tenants appeared to object most to, the confrontation hardened opposition to him. A number of residents began routinely complaining that Washington did not treat their complaints with respect. Chief among those demanding that Washington step down has been Lynda Walker, an outspoken resident and evangelist, who has been prodding Mayor Anthony Russo and the board to release Washington.
Though he said that he was pleased with some of Washington's work, Stefano said that he thought someone else could perform the role of the executive director better.
"You have to understand that when Troy took over, the housing authority was in complete disarray due to mismanagement for years," said Stefano. "We have taken some steps forward. But you don't want to have a C average; you want to have an A."
The politics of housing
Reached at his office this week, Washington said that he could see that the political forces may have aligned against him, but regardless of what happens, he was pleased with the work he had done.
"I am proud of my performance here at the Housing Authority," he said. "I know that the quality of life has improved for the residents here and that is what really matters."
With mayoral elections scheduled for May and politicians showing a renewed interest in attending housing authority meetings, Washington seemed to think that the effort to oust him had as much to do with politics as it did with his overall job performance.
"I find it interesting that a lot of politicians have started to show up at board meetings," Washington said. "That has really changed the tenor of the meetings. They are quick to criticize, but they do not sit around the table and offer solutions. That will probably continue and those same people will probably disappear after the elections. I think the residents should understand the purpose behind these people's actions."
This is not the first time that the board has considered replacing Washington.
A similar resolution failed at the board's last meeting in December due to a lack of votes. At the time Stefano needed four votes to move the motion, but due to a strange combination of circumstances he was unable to muster the votes.
Just before the meeting, the public learned that two commissioners, Frank Raia and Father Mike Guglielmelli, were being instructed by the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency that oversees the projects, to resign their posts. Raia, a local developer, apparently owns property in town that is rented to low income families who use Section 8 vouchers to help pay their rent. Since the vouchers are administered through the HHA, the DCA ruled that the developer's presence on the board could constitute a conflict of interest and he was asked to step down.
Guglielmelli also was asked to excuse himself from the board since he had not taken instructional courses mandated by the DCA for all board commissioners.
Complicating matters further for Stefano was the fact that recently appointed Commissioner Angel Alicea was absent. Still, the chairman pushed forward with the resolution with four of the seven commissioners present. But when Commissioner Arlette Braxton, a commissioner who has publicly apologized for criticizing Washington in the past, decided to abstain rather than vote to remove the executive director, Stefano was left one vote shy of the votes he needed to move the measure.
At the next meeting, the chairman should run into no such problems since Alicea is expected to attend and since pro-active measures are being taken to reinstate both Raia and Guglielmelli to the board.
With respect to Raia, Stefano said that he hoped to forward a resolution at the next meeting that would allow the developer's Section 8 contracts to be managed by another housing authority. If the board passes the proposal, Raia would likely be reinstated.
Such a move is sure to anger Walker and her political supporters. When Raia's name was originally floated as a potential board member last fall, Walker vehemently objected. As a resident of the HHA who is thoroughly versed in its bylaws, she argued that she could better serve the residents. Councilman Ruben Ramos Jr., who represents the ward where the HHA is located, even nominated her to fill the board position. But the council ultimately chose to appoint Raia. Now that Raia has been at least temporarily removed, Walker has said that she would like to pursue the post again.
Reinstating Guglielmelli, a local pastor, is likely to be a less volatile issue. Stefano said that Guglielmelli was not able to take the DCA-mandated classes because he normally has to attend weddings or funerals on the days that they are offered.
"Unfortunately most of the classes are on Saturday and he has to do a lot of weddings and funerals on that day," said Stefano. "He is the pastor of one of the busiest churches in town."
In November, Stefano says that he wrote the DCA notifying them of the situation, and he has yet to hear back. "They have the power to grant a waiver and in this case we think they should," he said.