IHA Board of Commissioners fire executive director ‘for cause’

Photo by Chris Sykes
Former Irvington Housing Authority Executive Director David Brown listens to the proceedings at the IHA Board of Commissioners special meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8, where it later announced his employment at the local public housing agency had been terminated for cause due to information it had received from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that funds it.

IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington Housing Authority Board of Commissioners voted at a special meeting Wednesday, Feb. 8, to terminate Executive Director David Brown and pay him four months’ salary as severance pay.

According to Mayor Tony Vauss, former Newark Regional Housing Department official Diane Johnson has been tapped to replace Brown. Johnson reportedly currently works as a consultant for Housing and Urban Development, but calls to H.U.D. Regional Public Housing Director Sonia Burgos’ office seeking confirmation of Johnson’s appointment were not returned by press time this week.

Vauss did not provide any other public comment about Brown, his likely replacement or the IHA’s future going forward. The township is, however, still carrying out the shared services agreement he brokered with Brown and the IHA, in order to make sure the public housing agency’s facilities were kept clean, after Brown fired 13 Maintenance Department workers last year.

Brown’s employment with the IHA was terminated after the board paused its public meeting to go into private executive session for unspecified reasons. When it returned two hours later and reconvened the public portion of the meeting, it was announced Brown had been terminated “for cause.”

“I need a motion to add two resolutions to the agenda: Resolution No. 1 terminates the services of Executive Director David Brown for cause, as a result of information presented to the board from H.U.D.,” IHA Board of Commissioners Chairperson Carolyn V. Jenkins said before putting the matter to a vote. “Resolution No. 2 is a resolution to pay the former executive director 120 days of what his pay would be.”

The six-member board voted unanimously to approve the resolutions. Jenkins declined to comment on Brown’s termination, following the meeting.

Brown himself had apparently already left the meeting before the board came out of executive session. He initially went into the private meeting, along with his attorney, but several minutes prior to the board re-convening the public portion of the meeting, he exited the front door while his attorney exited through the rear.

“In a way I saw it coming for the simple reason that Mr. Brown is not a bad person, but if he had stopped playing politics, he would have lasted longer,” IHA resident and Tenant Association member Delores Calloway said Wednesday, Feb. 8. A former commissioner herself, she added, “H.U.D. has been here going through the books for the last five to six months now. They were there every day in the main office and I knew they were getting ready to go through the books and I knew there is a whole lot of stuff going on.”

According to Calloway, Brown isn’t the first IHA executive director to have his employment terminated for cause by the Board of Commissioners, just the latest in a line of appointed officials at the public housing project that have been the victims of politics gone bad.

“I’ve been here 33 years and I actually saw John Coskey when he left out of here, because his father was the mayor and he was the director and that was a conflict of interest,” Calloway said. “I was also here as a commissioner when Mr. Larry Jackson was dismissed.”

“Based on my experience as a tenant and commissioner, this is how it goes: You do an evaluation and, depending on how that evaluation goes, then they dismiss you,” she said.

Saying it was due to H.U.D. cutbacks, Brown laid off 13 IHA Maintenance Department employees in July 2016, while H.U.D. auditors were conducting a review of the books and evaluating his performance as executive director.

Caleb Bryant, the former shop steward for Service Employees International Union Local 617, which represents the employees, was critical of his former boss.

“We all feel vindicated (for) our efforts shined a spotlight on his mismanagement,” Bryant said Wednesday, Feb. 8. “We spoke to many politicians who, in turn, called H.U.D. to find out why the layoff was happening. We presented information and a detailed explanation of his squandering of taxpayer funds.”

As a former IHA commissioner, Irvington NAACP Vice President Kathleen Witcher said she understands the H.U.D. audit and evaluation process.

“For the record, I was the acting director of the IHA just prior to David Brown being hired by the commissioners,” said Witcher on Wednesday, Feb. 8. “I was the chairperson of the Board of Housing Commissioners and, therefore, took the place of the former director, Mr. Jackson. Brown leaves the IHA after many years as a director. I would hope that the numerous problems that have existed in the IHA are given a closer look at solutions that work best.”

Witcher added that it is time to get rid of politics at the IHA.

“I would hope that the IHA has a bright future ahead, with the new leadership that will be selected,” said Witcher. “The selection of new leadership should not be an intervention of the political lot. Reaching beyond the area should find a good selection for the next housing director who handles units of Section 8, as well as the units in Irvington along Union Avenue.”