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HUD Urges Ganim To Blowtorch Housing Authority Board

September 1st, 2016 · 27 Comments · Analysis and Comment, News and Events

The regional director of the federal Housing and Urban Development wants Mayor Joe Ganim to “replace the mayoral appointments to the Board (of the Bridgeport housing authority) within a period not to exceed 30 days,” asserting a “history of board member interference in the daily operations of the agency and the inappropriate use of their authority to influence the award of contracts, the hiring of friends and family members and the provision of housing to family members outside of the required tenant selection policies.”

Suzanne Piacentini, director of HUD’s Hartford regional field office, wrote the mayor last week in a scathing review of the agency known now as Park City Communities that oversees a $51 million budget serving the housing needs of 12,000 residents

HUD officials have kicked up a review of the troubled housing authority citing in recent years management and financial issues.

“We are notifying you that the actions and omissions of the current Bridgeport Housing Authority members, who were appointed by your predecessor, give clear evidence that they do not meet the requirements needed to govern and oversee the BHA,” wrote Piacentini to Ganim.

The following board members Dulce Nieves, who serves as chair, Richard DeJesus, Rev. Sultan Stack Jr. and Janet Ortiz were appointed by former Mayor Bill Finch. Hadassah Nightingale is the resident commissioner. They serve as volunteers. Board members often becomes casualties–some argue scapegoats–when the federal agency that oversees public housing weighs in.

Piacentini also criticized the severance package the board granted former executive director George Byers that runs into January, charging “Despite concerns raised by both HUD and the City, the board authorized severance payments … that are unreasonable, have no legal basis and act as a demonstration of the Board’s failure to perform their fiduciary duties for the BHA. In addition, the Board failed to keep any records of any negotiations with George L. Byers regarding the status of his contract and provided false information to HUD as to who participated in these negotiations and when these negotiations occurred.”

Byers left after knocking heads with Ganim over security and other issues.

The HUD letter to Ganim, citing regulations, implores the mayor to revamp the board. Ganim is reviewing potential replacements to the board as he ponders HUD’s request.

HUD letter:

The Bridgeport Housing Authority (BHA) receives federal funding in excess of $43 million dollars annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to serve the housing needs of low income people in Bridgeport. While the BHA functions with local independence on a variety of matters. the Agency. in carrying out its mission, must abide by its duties in the Annual Contributions Contract between HUD and BHA. its adopted policies and state and federal laws and regulations. To achieve this mission, the BHA requires a Board of Commissioners, to govern the agency, that are ready, willing, able and ethical.

On November 20, 2015, a Recovery Agreement was executed between the BHA, the City of Bridgeport and HUD due to the BHA’s status as a Troubled Agency. This Agreement and local law requires that the Mayor appoint and maintain a sufficient number of Board Members that the Mayor certifies are qualified to lead the Agency. This Agreement further states that:

“The City of Bridgeport, through its Appointing Authority, acknowledges the importance of effective governance as part of the recovery and sustainability of the Bridgeport Housing Authority. As a signatory of this Agreement, the City of Bridgeport commits to oversee and monitor its duly appointed agents, the appointees to the Bridgeport Housing Authority Governing Board, in the discharge of their duties. Upon the discovery of any failure of the Bridgeport Housing Authority Board to discharge its duties under this Agreement, City of Bridgeport will take all necessary steps to correct the Board’s actions or omissions and ensure compliance with the terms of this Agreement.”

We are notifying you that the actions and omissions of the current BHA Board Members, who were appointed by your predecessor, give clear evidence that they do not meet the requirements needed to govern and oversee the BHA. The reasons for our determination are the following:
· The BHA Board has social ties in the community but lacks the professional skill set and judgement to oversee a complex housing agency responsible for tens of millions of dollars of federal funds annually.
· The BHA Board has exercised unprofessional oversight of BHA management for several years that has resulted in instability, continued poor financial condition, deteriorating physical condition of properties, deteriorating security of BHA residents, numerous audit findings, increased legal action and settlements against the Housing Authority and violations of fair housing and employment laws.
· There has been a history of Board Member interference in the daily operations of the agency and the inappropriate use of their authority to influence the award of contracts, the hiring of friends and family members and the provision of housing to family members outside of the required tenant selection policies. Although the Recovery Agreement requires that this activity will no longer continue, BUD has received information that supports that some current Board Members continue these unethical and possibly illegal activities.
· BHA Board members lack fundamental knowledge of HUD programs and how these programs work in concert with other financing sources and partnerships. In the past few months, the Board’s refusal to cooperate with a refinancing of a property that contains 8 BHA public housing units and 8 project based vouchers units placed the units and the investment at risk of loss, as well as dealing a blow to the Agency’s credibility with local partners. During this process, BHA Board members adamantly held to a position that this project held no business or housing benefit to the organization and resisted both HUD’s and the City’s attempts to resolve the problem. After several months. the Board did approve the refinancing but it is unclear whether the investment can be saved.
· Poor management and planning has forced HUD to recapture redevelopment funds in the recent year due to BHA’s inability to put these funds to use in the community.
· The BHA Board of Commissioners failed to implement measurable performance standards for the Executive Director and to perform regular reviews of his performance, as required by the Recovery Agreement.
· The Board of Commissioners failed to properly manage the contract for George L. Byers, Executive Director. Despite concerns raised by both HUD and the City, the Board authorized severance payments to George L. Byers that are unreasonable, have no legal basis and act as a demonstration of the Board’s failure to perform their fiduciary duties for the BHA. In addition, the Board failed to keep any records of any negotiations with George L. Byers regarding the status of his contract and provided false information to HUD as to who participated in these negotiations and when these negotiations occurred.
· The current hiring process for a new Executive Director is not transparent to the full Board, BHA residents or to HUD. The full Board was not provided with information on all applicants nor were they involved in determining which applicants to interview. The Board was not given candidate packages in a timely fashion nor were they timely apprised of interview schedules. The Board violated Open Meeting laws by having the full Board conduct interviews without giving proper notice of a meeting. The Board also failed to seek appropriate input from the RAB and resident leaders and provided false information to HUD as to their actions in this area. The Board also misrepresented to HUD their willingness to share information about their process and determinations of applicant qualifications.
· The BHA fails to seek guidance from HUD and their own attorneys to avoid taking actions that harm BHA residents, partners, employees and applicants, evidencing that they do not have the proper ethics or willingness to oversee the Agency.
· The BHA Board does not submit materials to HUD when requested as required by the Recovery Agreement. In addition, the BHA Board has failed to ensure that the BHA meets the requirements of the Recovery Agreement within the prescribed timeframes.

In light of this, as the funder and federal regulatory body of the BHA and as required by the Recovery Agreement, we are requesting that you replace the Mayoral appointments to the Board within a period not to exceed 30 days. In so doing, we further request that you seek Board Members that are not only willing, able and ethical but who also possess the professional experience necessary to govern an Agency of this complexity and size.

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • Frank Gyure

    Won’t happen. Ganim and Company are holding onto the money as long as they can.

    • LennieGrimaldi

      What money, Frank? HUD federal money for the housing authority is not wired to the city’s general fund.

      • Frank Gyure

        Lennie. It’s a question of pluses and minuses. ALL THE MONEY that is supposed to be directed towards specific “budget” lines takes away money from other lines in the budget. The less money that comes from the state or the feds means less money from the city budget. Addition and Subtraction.

        • Frank Gyure

          The city of Bridgeport budget, when you look at ALL, ALL, ALL of the monies is a combination of local funds (property taxes) and whatever can be gotten from the State and the Feds. We are a WARD of the State and the Feds. PERIOD.

      • Bob Walsh

        Lennie,
        You wrote the other day that in lieu of capital improvements value, BHA (I refuse to use their new name) agreeing to use operating funds is greater value to reimburse the city for police protection.
        That Dear Scribe is converting Capital Funds to The Operating Budget at a rate very advantageous to the city.

        • LennieGrimaldi

          Troll, the BHA agreed to fund increased police protection in their own units. So? Do you think Joe Ganim lobbied HUD to write this scathing letter?

          • Bob Walsh

            Lennie,
            Come on, this game has been going on forever.
            Are you telling me those police officers are forbidden from leaving BHA property?
            They will be just like the School Resource Officers. Manning out from their assigned locations to go where the action is.
            Or did the city commit to giving money back to BHA every time they are moved elsewhere?

          • LennieGrimaldi

            Do you think Joe Ganim lobbied HUD to write this scathing letter?

          • Bob Walsh

            Quite possibly. A very good excuse to clean house without political fallout.
            If it makes Finch look bad then it makes Ganim look good.
            See my comment about the FBI.
            If the regional director believe there is possible illegal awarding of contracts then she should be demanding a federal investigation and not merely sending a letter to the mayor asking him to replace the board.

  • Donald Day

    Well here is a previous post made prior to my knowing this.

    Donald Day // Aug 31, 2016 at 6:32 pm
    Andy, QD and Lisa thank you so very much for your concerns. JML, you are on point again, these people are put in these positions without any knowledge or expertise and there is no follow-up to see if they are at the very least competent.

    You can rest assured those who work in that office have given their relatives and friends preferential treatment at the expense of my son and others like him. I will today forward my concerns and the plight of my son to James Slaughter, but my hope for resolution was dashed years ago. Time will tell?

  • Bob Walsh

    Donald,
    As I posted, this practice by the BHA is encouraged by Mario Testa and the Democratic Machine in order to provide housing assistance to those close to the party, or so the rumor goes.
    As a result they keep down occupancy rates and increase vacancy rates; just to be safe.

  • Bob Walsh

    What burns my butt is the language from HUD that says “Unethical and possibly illegal activity.”
    You think there is possible illegal activity in awarding contracts, nepotism and other benefits being obtained by board members?
    Call the FBI and initiate an investigation, will you?
    Otherwise this is simply political posturing.

  • Bob Walsh

    Lennie,
    If you have the actual signed letter on HUD stationery, email it to me and I will make sure it is in the hands of the Agent In Charge of the New Haven Office of the FBI first thing in the morning.
    And don’t worry, I’ve got her email address and fax number so you don’t need to send me that.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Cecil Young was onto this stuff a long time ago. The BHA has been dysfunctional for a long time. As long as I can remember.

    But this is just the tip of the iceberg of Bridgeport’s problems.

    The city is a powder keg and just an incident away from a melt-down.

    Again; this is the perfect time, a presidential/state/congressional election year, to make a big, unified noise in Washington.

    The mayor can get some justifiable momentum out of this letter for a massive federal bailout. This is an opportunity to talk about a city-state-federal plan to turn this city around before things are totally irreversible.

    Time for City Hall, the state delegation, and the federal delegation to get real about this city and stop the bleeding before all the band-aids give out and the blood starts spurting uncontrollably.

    • Dave Walker

      Jeff,
      There is no way the federal government will bail out Bridgeport or Connecticut. Why should federal taxpayers assume the cost of the longstanding mismanagement at the state and local level?

  • Tom White

    “Board Members that are not only willing, able and ethical but who also possess the professional experience necessary to govern an Agency of this complexity and size.”

    What? This is Bridgeport. These characteristics are not even required of city council members.

    HUD should be prepared to appoint the BHA board if regulations permit it in an emergency.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Tom White,
    Speaking of requirements for office, rumors are rife, as they always have been, about residences of local elected officials. If a City Council member lives in another town, or a Mayor has an active residence outside of the City or a State Representative lives outside of the District they represent, what do we call this? We say ONLY IN BRIDGEPORT!!!, but not proudly.
    But yesterday I heard for the first time there has been a member of the City Council whose actual ability to read is questionable. Does that mean reading tests ought to be assigned before the DTC lets them become endorsed? Look at the volume of documents and exhibits on which review, thought and discussion is due before decision. Incredible, perhaps, but allowed because no requirement must be met. Is reading required to vote? Or to understand when there is a Democratic primary that there is no Republican running on any line? Time will tell.

  • Hector A. Diaz

    Elected officials are by definition just that, “Elected.” The ability to read, write, see or speak are not requirements. It is at the will of those voting in majority that they serve (at least that is “normally” the case, Presidential primaries or elections may differ).

    • John Marshall Lee

      Hector,
      Glad to have you back in the discussion mix. Are you in favor of candidates who cannot serve effectively because of a limited reading ability, for instance? I am not suggesting by any measure people ought to take exams or show a certificate or degree in order to run for office. But is it fair to have an expectation people who are voting on issues that are written, should be able to read such documents? And if they are voting on financial affairs, some basic math skills also accompany their reading readiness? (I am open to the unusual situation of a person blind from birth running for the Council. To do so would likely require a major investment in becoming equipped for learning and communication by such person, making them, perhaps, more able than others who have standard physical abilities otherwise not compromised.)
      Is the only test that is necessary to be passed by any party Town Committee, WILL YOU SUPPORT THE PARTY BLINDLY AND DO EVERYTHING YOU ARE TOLD WITHOUT QUESTION? If there is an alternative acid test, will you share it with us? Time will tell.

      • Hector A. Diaz

        Thank you, JML. There seem to be a few questions in your comment, I’m not sure which I could answer. I’d like my elected official to not feel obligated to anyone other than those who elect them. The DTC or RTC being an electable body also have a responsibility to put forth their best candidates, for them to use any different criteria from an Independent candidate would (in my opinion) be a travesty.

        • John Marshall Lee

          Hector,
          I am sorry to ask too many questions. It is likely a reason why some elected persons do not care to schedule time to talk with me, while a few others do. Still, are you saying in a time when only 10% may have voted, and those folks are diehard members of a party, while 90% remain hopeless and do not vote, that the candidate now elected owes votes to only those who voted for him or her? Or do they represent all the folks in the District, and not just the nine people in the local DTC, if we are talking about Bridgeport?
          Personally I would prefer them to have at least average intelligence, life experience that provides some wisdom and patience, and compassion in their heart, along with the ability to learn and give voice to their learning, which calls for reading, writing and some computational skill. Perhaps they would treat public resources like money as if it were their own money and exercise care. Do the parties put out such candidates routinely? Time will tell.

  • canobeano

    “In so doing, we further request that you seek Board Members that are not only willing, able and ethical but who also POSSESS THE PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE NECESSARY TO GOVERN AN AGENCY OF THIS COMPLEXITY AND SIZE [emphasis mine].”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This Mayor has proven he doesn’t know anybody who matches this description. Good luck, y’all.

  • flubadub

    Do we actually think citizen volunteers who meet the criteria “willing, able and ethical but who also possess the professional experience necessary to govern an agency of this complexity and size” would want to subject themselves to the slings and arrows and antics of the entrenched powers that be? So many of them are all consumed with the intrigue and deal making and gossip and are a negative impact on anyone who truly wants to perform civic service.

  • Frank the Cabana Boy

    Wow, that’s a a potent message. flubadub, you are correct. The qualified won’t do it. Why should they? It’s an uphill battle trying to work with an administration that seems hell-bent on shortcuts and serving itself as the first priority. Can HUD take over? Can that happen?

  • Bob Halstead

    What makes you think HUD is all that ethical and competent?

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