IHA commissioners appoint new executive director

Photo by Chris Sykes
Newly appointed Irvington Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia, left, thanks the IHA board of commissioners for appointing him at its meeting on Wednesday, April 19.

IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington Housing Authority board of commissioners voted Darlene Brown its new chairwoman at its meeting on Wednesday, April 19, and passed a resolution naming former Hoboken Housing Authority Executive Director Carmelo Garcia as the IHA’s new executive director.

The board also approved another walk-on resolution to appoint the law firm of Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley as the IHA general counsel, “for a period of two years from this date, April 19, 2017, in the amount of $42,000 payable in 12 monthly installments of $3,500 per month for all services, including extraordinary services at litigation, which shall be billed at a rate of $150 per hour and a payment of $150 per complaint for tenancy matters that exceed 20 per month, which represents no change in rates and is the same rate that the firm has charged over the past five years.” There was some dispute, however, about the Irvington Municipal Council appointing a new resident commissioner to serve on the board, instead of allowing the IHA residents to vote them in.

“Can I get a motion for a walk-on resolution approving the appointment of Carmelo G. Garcia as interim executive director of the Housing Authority of the township of Irvington for a period of one year from the date of this resolution in the amount of $155,000 and subject to a contract with terms to be agreed upon by Carmelo Garcia and the Irvington Housing Authority?” Brown asked at the meeting on Wednesday, April 19.

The five-member commissioner board voted 3-2 to approve the walk-on resolution appointing Garcia. Commissioners Bethea and Jenkins voted “No.” Afterward, Brown introduced Garcia and allowed him to address the audience of IHA residents at the meeting.

“I’m excited and hopeful that we will bring about the change that you’re looking for and that the residents clearly are asking for,” said Garcia on Wednesday, April 19. “The No. 1 thing is building that trust, respecting and listening to the residents, knowing that what you say you’re going to do you carry out. So I’m looking forward implementing the plans that will improve your quality of life, because that’s very fruitful, when the residents can actually communicate with the board of commissioners and its executive director.”

Garcia said he is “looking forward to new leadership” and is “excited to work with the residents and improve their quality of life.” He also thanked Brown and the other commissioners for the opportunity to serve and lead the IHA.

Following Garcia’s initial remarks, Brown asked for another vote “for Carmelo Garcia to start in two weeks from this date,” and the vote was once again 3-2, with Bethea and Jenkins voting “No,” although his appointment was approved.

“Thank you, madame chairwoman and commissioners,” Garcia,said with regard to the commissioners’ support, then he was officially introduced to the IHA residents and tenants for the first time. “Your faith is everything and the work that we will get done. And we’ll hit the ground hard running to let the residents know that change is coming.”

Garcia promptly exited the meeting with Essex County Freeholder Wayne Richardson.

Garcia replaces former IHA Executive Director David Brown, who was fired for cause by the commissioners at a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, and Garcia is taking over from IHA Treasurer Carolyn Jenkins, who had been serving as the acting IHA executive director after Brown was fired. Jenkins originally said she was only serving as the acting executive director temporarily, until Elizabeth Housing Authority Executive Director Williams Jones, who was originally tapped to take over the troubled IHA, was approved by HUD and came aboard. The commissioners even passed resolutions at their Feb. 15 meeting to facilitate that process.

Resolution No. 2017-07 gave Jones control of the IHA and explained why the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development had ordered the commissioners to turn over control of the Irvington operation to the EHA; Resolution No. 2017-08 authorized Jones, Beasley and Jenkins “as appointed to serve as signatories” on the IHA “general fund bank account;” and Resolution No. 2017-09 authorized them to do the same on the IHA “bank accounts, business fund and Section 8 voucher account.”

On Friday, Feb. 17, Jones declined to make an official statement about the EHA taking over control of the IHA, but said Jenkins probably read Resolution No. 2017-07 into the special meeting record on Wednesday, Feb. 15, instead of including it on the meeting agenda, because “it had not been typed up yet.”

On Monday, Feb. 20, Jones said that the resolution wasn’t included on the official agenda for the IHA board’s meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15, because it “has to be approved by HUD.”

But on Monday, Feb. 20, Evans said HUD rejected Resolution No. 2017-17, because it was too vaguely worded, and he had asked the IHA commissioners to rewrite it, using more specific language, before resubmitting it for HUD’s review and approval. Apparently that never occurred and now Garcia is in charge at the IHA.

“I would just like to take the time right now to thank former (chairwoman), Mrs. Jenkins,” Brown said Wednesday, April 19, after she and Jenkins was given a standing ovation. “She has been here filling as the executive director for a period of time and she has done a great job. She is one of our veteran commissioner, whom we all learn from, and I really want to thank her, because, when a lot of us couldn’t get here, she took over and she was in that office, day and night, tired. And I really want to thank you, Mrs. Jenkins.”

Jenkins thanked Brown for her remarks and stated she took on the role of acting executive director because she cared.

“At the time all of this went down, if I hadn’t done it, I don’t know whether the Housing Authority would still be going on,” said Jenkins on Wednesday, April 19. “I did it because I care about every resident that lives here. I care about Irvington, period. I’ve been in Irvington for 30-something years and I’m too old to go anywhere else now.”

Jenkins said the IHA “is still in good hands” and “we just have to stick together.”

“It’s a lot of changes that need to be done, a lot,” said Jenkins. “And we just have to try to work together and get it done. But people have to be cooperative.”

Former IHA Commissioner and current Irvington NAACP Vice President Kathleen Witcher, who once served as an acting executive director in the same capacity as Jenkins, was not present at the meeting on Wednesday, April 19, but she did have something to say about Garcia’s appointment, Brown taking over as commissioner chairperson from longtime treasurer Caroline Jenkins, and the Irvington Municipal Council’s decision to unilaterally appoint a new resident commissioner to the IHA board.

“This is murky; HUD is actually taking a position that the board of any housing authority decides on their hires, unless they go to receivership,” said Witcher on Friday, April 21. “In past times, if not going to receivership by HUD, the chairman took the acting director position and a search was conducted. The appearance of a freeholder bringing anyone to be hired or anyone else of an elected position, including the members of the Irvington Municipal Council, is questioned here. There should be a question placed that asks how does the county official hold any authority over the board of commissioners of a public housing authority.”

Witcher also questioned the process that led to Garcia’s appointment. She said the IHA commissioners should be consulting with the regional office, because a search for a new hire should have been completed and, “The search can be conducted nationally, with candidates coming from many places,” but that apparently was not done in this case.

“We should wonder what the track record is,” said Witcher. “We should also wonder if the new person has been vetted, so that similar practices as in the previous administration of IHA do not occur. What is the new hire bringing? What is the new hire’s track record? Does IHA stand to benefit? Will the residents benefit from the new hire’s work and practices?”