H.U.D. had been investigating Brown long before he was fired

Photo by Chris Sykes
IHA former shop steward and maintenance worker Caleb Bryant, bottom left, is pictured protesting being one of 13 employees laid off last year. After Brown was fired for cause by the IHA Board of Commissioners at its special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, Bryant said he feels vindicated and validated for bringing attention to the mismanagement and malfeasance of his former boss.

IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington Housing Authority Board of Commissioners cited information they received from the federal Housing and Urban Development department as its primary reason for terminating Executive Director David Brown’s employment for cause at a special meeting Thursday, Feb. 8.

The Irvington Herald newspaper has reached out to H.U.D. Regional Director Sonia Burgos to obtain a copy of the report containing the findings and information that IHA Board of Commissioners President Carolyn V. Jenkins said prompted the board to fire Brown.

In the meantime, former IHA employees and others with knowledge of the public housing agency’s inner workings said they believe the H.U.D. report was based on the findings of the auditors and investigators who, since July 2016, had been on the scene at the IHA Main Office on Nye Ave., reviewing Brown’s fiscal and financial records. At the same time, Brown tried to justify firing 13 members of the IHA Maintenance Department.

Although Brown could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, Feb. 8, he went on the record last year to refute allegations of mismanagement and possible malfeasance that SEIU Local 617 IHA union employees accused him of committing, and which they believed led directly to their layoffs.

According to former IHA maintenance employee Rasheed Willis on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, Brown had already been accepting bids, requests for procurement, requests for qualifications and “other procurement solicitations,” even though the 13 Maintenance Department workers Brown was seeking to replace were still employed at the IHA and hadn’t been scheduled to be laid off until April 20. Willis alleged that Brown had scheduled job interviews with prospective replacements for boiler maintenance and coverage; vacant unit turnover; grass-cutting and snow removal jobs for Tuesday, April 12, eight days before the the unionized employees were supposed to be laid off.

And Willis and the rest of the SEIU Local 617 members were not happy about it.

“Basically, anyone that applied for the contract maintenance positions of boiler maintenance and coverage; vacant unit turnover; grass-cutting and snow removal was scheduled to come to the public housing complex at the intersection of Union Avenue and Nye Avenue to do preliminary walk-throughs, in preparation for the eventual awarding of the service contracts to do the actual work,” Willis alleged Tuesday, April 5.

Brown always maintained, up until he was fired, that he he was not guilty of any wrongdoing or inappropriate behavior at the IHA, and he reiterated this in a press release he issued Wednesday, April 6, before H.U.D. sent in a team of auditors to review his financial records and evaluate his job performance.

“Over the past 10 years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has cut the Irvington Housing Authority in Operating Funding and funding it at a 90-percent average; $4.5 million in Comprehensive Grant Funding, which goes toward capital Improvements, along with capturing a project that would have amounted to $980,000 that would have gone to the Central Office Cost Center of the Housing Authority as non-federal funding,” said Brown in his press release.

“H.U.D. recently issued a letter to the Irvington Housing Authority stating its director was being overpaid of federal funding. After careful review by the Housing Authority accounting staff, this information was found to be untrue. After careful review of H.U.D.’s guidelines on the (Central Office Cost Center), the Housing Authority finds they were within the regulations.”

According to Brown, “The regulations state that the COCC is the term used to describe the Business Unit within the PHA that earns income from fee or revenue from other business activity.” He said the Central Office Cost Center is “likened to a private Real Estate Company with different sourcing of business revenue” and, therefore, “The income received by the COCC would be available to pay for all cost related to general oversight of the projects, for preparing project level financial reports and, in this particular case, for routine examination services.”

“In addition to this fee income to operate the Public Housing Program, the PHA might also earn fees from other program or business activities i.e. non-profit activity, laundry contracts, antennas, and other vending projects,” Brown said. “These management fees would be used in lieu of complex systems for allocating overhead expenses. A PHA would be free to determine how to use its fee income. As long as the fee that a PHA charged were reasonable, these funds would no longer be considered a “federal income” program and would be exempt from 24 CFR Part 8S, Administrative Requirements for Grants and Cooperative Agreements Local and Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments.”

Brown said switching the IHA to a PHA fee system provided for “greater flexibility” in dealing with the agency’s “overhead costs.” But H.U.D. did not agree with Brown’s fiscal and financial management rationale, based on a “management fee/fee-for-services approach.”

Former IHA Commissioner and current Irvington NAACP Vice President Kathleen Witcher said the current board and its predecessors are just as guilty as Brown and his administrative staff, and equally to blame for the current state of affairs at the public housing agency.

“Everything has to be approved by the board,” said Witcher on Wednesday, Feb. 8. “It is an awesome task to run public housing with many kinds of concerns. The current chairperson of the board, Carolyn Jenkins, will be the acting director. It is my hope that she will run the day-to-day operations with the cooperation of the staff and the residents, as well as that of the commissioners.”

IHA former shop steward and maintenance worker Caleb Bryant, one of the 13 employees laid off last year, said that’s not likely to happen any time soon, saying, “The Board of Commissioners approved all the financial decisions made by Brown.”