IRVINGTON, NJ — When the six members of the Irvington Housing Authority Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to fire its executive director, David Brown, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, they used information presented to the board from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to reach the decision.
That information was finally made available to the public Friday, March 10, in a report compiled by Kimberly S. Dahl, the regional inspector general for audit for region 2 New York-New Jersey, and submitted to Catherine D. Lamberg, acting director of the Office of Public Housing Newark Field Office and Craig T. Clemensen, director of the Departmental Enforcement Center.
According to Dahl’s report, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, “audited the Housing Authority of the Township of Irvington regarding the administration of its public housing program, because it was classified as a troubled public housing agency and based on a complaint from the union representing its maintenance and clerical employees. The complaint alleged serious financial and operational mismanagement. The audit objectives were to determine whether the issues identified in the complaint could be substantiated and whether the authority administered its public housing program in accordance with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations and had sufficient financial controls.”
The union complaint referred to in the report was the one filed in 2016 by SEIU Local 617 Union representative Caleb Bryant and Megan Chambers of SEIU and Workers United, in response to Brown’s plan to lay off Bryant and 12 maintenance department employees, allegedly as a cost-saving measure. But their complaint alleged any funding issues at the Irvington Housing Authority were due to mismanagement by Brown himself, specifically: capital improvements were not properly completed; the plan to eliminate the IHA Maintenance Department and outsource this function to the Irvington Township without the Board of Commissioners’ public vote and a cost-saving analysis; budget shortfall and no plan to balance the budget; the executive director’s salary exceeded federal limits; violation of New Jersey Civil Service regulations and paid fines; excessive travel costs while buildings lacked repair and renovations were not completed; and the resident commissioner representative to the board was delinquent in paying rent and residents paid rent in cash.
“The allegations in the complaint regarding serious financial and operational mismanagement were valid,” according to Dahl’s report. “Authority officials did not always administer the authority’s public housing program in accordance with program requirements. Specifically, officials spent program funds for unsupported and ineligible costs, excessive compensation was provided to the former executive director, HUD was not notified about litigations, deficiencies were noted in rent collection, program income was spent for ineligible and unsupported costs, and controls over procurement were inadequate. We attributed these deficiencies to the authority officials’ unfamiliarity with program requirements, disregard for the financial condition of the authority and failure to establish a proper control environment. As a result, HUD had no assurance that $1.2 million in expenditures charged by the authority was eligible and adequately supported.”
Dahl concluded her report by making four recommendations to Lamberg and Clemensen.
“We recommend that HUD require authority officials to: reimburse the public housing program from nonfederal funds for $95,240 in ineligible expenditures; provide supporting documentation to justify $1.1 million in unsupported expenditures charged to the public housing program or repay the program from nonfederal funds; and establish adequate controls to ensure compliance with program requirements. We also recommend that the director of HUD’s Departmental Enforcement Center pursue administrative sanctions against any current or former authority officials found to have spent public housing program funds for personal or unallowable use.”
The revelation of why the IHA commissioners voted to terminate Brown’s employment has upset some IHA residents.
“The more I read the more incensed I become and convinced this entire board must be replaced,” Joseph C. Epps, a resident at the IHA’s apartment complex on Nye Ave., said Monday, March 27. Epps is a state-licensed public adjuster with experience in housing and property management and was a multifamily housing asset manager at the HUD Regional Office in Newark. “Most of the findings were issues I have cited at previous board meetings. I had offered to help Brown and the board address them, but they never responded.”
According to Epps, Brown and the commissioners’ apparent refusal to answer his questions or address the concerns he raised led to the former Brown’s dismissal and highlight a lack of accountability as well as bad bookkeeping and accounting practices.
“Now, $95,000 has to come out of non-subsidy funds which will affect services to residents,” said Epps. “The board’s lack of oversight and due diligence make them complicit with this result. This contract with Executive Director William Jones of the Elizabeth Housing Authority is the least egregious form or receivership, which allows the board to remain. In the future, we have to somehow get past this pervasive predilection for personalities and politics. They need people who know housing and property management to serve, not simply folks who are civic-minded individuals.”
Bryant agreed with Epps, but concluded that honesty and integrity are the essential qualities lacking in Irvington Housing Authority management and fiscal matters during Brown’s regime and are desperately needed now, in order to address all the issues validated in Dahl’s report.
“This report is the hammer that destroys the credibility of the Board of Commissioners and the Municipal Council and mayor of Irvington,” Bryant said Sunday, March 26. “David Brown’s long-overdue termination cannot be segregated from the fact that any decision he made, he did not make alone; he petitioned and received approval from the Board of Commissioners.”
Bryant went on to say the Municipal Council is culpable with regard to any financial shenanigans or wrongdoing cited in the report, because, “The commissioners are appointed by the town council and mayor.”
“So you can’t say Brown was incompetent or criminally libel without saying those who empowered him aren’t libel or criminal in their decisions,” said Bryant. “By agreeing to a shared service agreement the mayor, council and commissioners doubled down and endorsed Brown’s tenure, knowing all the while that the authority was flat, busted broke. So where was the will and courage to do what was right and terminate him?”
Attempts to contact Mayor Tony Vauss or Municipal Council President David Lyons were not successful by press time this week.