At least for one night, good-natured chatter, a cooperative sprit, and teamwork replaced the raised voices and split votes on the Hoboken Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners.
After over two months of bickering, the board on Monday night came to an agreement on the process that will be used to select the next executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority.
The Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA) oversees the city’s approximately 1,383 federally subsidized units of low-income housing, primarily located in the southwest part of the city. The HHA answers to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is not city-run, but the City Council, mayor and state appoint the seven unpaid commissioners to the housing board. The board hires a paid executive director, who oversees the day-to-day operation of the Housing Authority. .
In November, rumors started spreading that then-Executive Director E. Troy Washington was leaving Hoboken to take the head job at the Jersey City Housing Authority. As soon as word got out, members of the board started posturing and stating their case for how the new director should be selected.
For the past several years, there have been two factions on the board. One group is supported by City Hall and Mayor David Roberts, and generally has been opposed to Washington and many of his policies. The other faction included the three resident board members who supported Washington and who generally felt the City Hall was poking its nose where it did not belong.
Both factions thought they knew the best way to select Washington’s successor.
The resulting power struggle made the search for an executive director especially contentious. The City Hall-supported commissioners said that “lame duck” Washington abrogated his responsibilities before his contract expired, leading to unsafe conditions. Because of the alleged emergency situation, they said that HUD procurement policy could be bypassed in order to hire an interim executive director.
On Jan. 8 that faction called an emergency meeting of the board, which only the four members attended, to hire an interim executive director.
Meanwhile, the other three members, with a sternly worded letter from HUD in hand, said that the other commissioners weren’t following proper procurement policy, and that the firm they hired on Jan. 8 was illegitimate. When the firm showed up for work the next day, they were escorted off the Housing Authority property by Washington and two security guards.
At that point, bad feelings were running rampant. Several of the commissioners were questioning who was actually running the projects.
Mayor and HUD talk
The next week, on Jan. 15 Roberts met with Diane Johnson, the field director of the Newark branch of HUD, at City Hall to discuss how to proceed.
Roberts described meeting with Johnson as “a good meeting” where a plan on how to proceed was discussed. The next night, Friday, Jan. 16, the HHA board held another emergency meeting, and the divide on the board had apparently started to shrink. A plan on how to proceed was being formulated.
The board agreed to appoint the city’s director of community development, Fred Bado, to serve as emergency interim executive director of a period of one week so that the board could gather a list of candidates to be interim executive director.
Having Bado, if even for only a week, insured that someone was looking over the projects and was managing the day-to-day operations, alleviating some concerns about the “unsafe conditions” that would result if the authority had no management. This was especially important because in Bado’s week on the job, there was a sizable snowstorm that needed managerial attention.
That brings events to Monday. Instead of the acrimony of the past several months, there was a conciliatory mood in the room. Commissioners who had vile words for each other in the past engaged in friendly conversation. All seven members have reached an agreement on how to select a new executive director.
The new road map
First, the board selected unanimously Robert DeVincent, the executive director of the West New York Housing Authority, to serve as interim executive director while a national search is undertaken. The contract is for $6,000 per month, not to exceed $72,000. But according the HHA’s attorney, Spencer Miller, the selection process should only take a couple of months.
Second, the board hired Dower and Associates Inc. of Massachusetts to assist the board in selecting an executive director. The firm will charge $6,200 to assist in the interview process and $1,700 for each subsequent visit to Hoboken, if needed. A Request for Proposal (RFP) will be advertised and the consultant will aid in the collection of the applications. The firm and the board will then narrow the applicants down to a handful of finalists.
Then the consultants will sit down with the full seven-member board and interview each of the finalists in a closed-session meeting. This is significant because for the first time as a single entity, the HHA board will be sitting together interviewing prospective candidates. This is a major departure from recent events.
Then the board will vote at public meeting on who to hire.
“This is a breath of fresh air,” said Commissioner Christopher Campos, who was of the most vocal members about the need to mend fences. Campos also sits on the Hoboken City Council. “I hope that we are now able to put the political posturing and bad feelings behind us and move forward and get things done.”
Housing Authority resident Lillian Dortch, who spoke during the public portion of the meeting, urged the board to continue the conciliatory mood.
“Let’s start over,” said Dortch. She added that it’s best for the residents if the commissioners have open communication instead of arguing amongst each other.
Commissioner Lynda Walker, who has been a critic of City Hall’s involvement in the projects, said that she is willing to work the entire board, even if they were political adversaries in the past. “There are so many things that need to be worked on,” said Walker.
Finally accomplished other maintenance
One other reason that Monday’s meeting was so important was that for the past two months, the board has not conducted any business, such as approving maintenance contracts, or planning new programs.
Monday the board approved a maintenance contract for the building’s elevators, took the first step towards re-establishing a resident council, and heard residents’ concerns that many residents keys don’t work.
“For the first time in a while,” said Campos, “we were actually able to get some things done. It was a good feeling.”