PHILADELPHIA (AP) ― The director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority was placed on leave Thursday amid revelations the agency quietly agreed to pay nearly $900,000 to settle four sexual-harassment complaints filed against him, and U.S housing officials pledged an immediate audit.
Agency board members voted to put longtime director Carl Greene on leave while it investigates the harassment claims and the secret settlements.
Greene has been mostly unreachable since news broke two weeks ago that the $350,000-a-year housing executive had fallen months behind on his mortgage and that the IRS had placed a $52,000 lien on his luxury home. Neither staff nor board members could reach him for days.
His lawyer disclosed Thursday that he has checked into an out-of-state medical facility to be treated for undisclosed medical problems. Greene, 53, is expected to remain there through mid-September, lawyer Clifford Haines said.
“Carl’s a very proud man,” said Haines, who described Greene as distressed by the allegations. “I have yet to hear anybody make a connection between any of the things that have occurred and his performance.”
The housing authority on Thursday released a thick binder documenting the four sexual-harassment claims, the $33 million spent on outside legal fees since 2007 and correspondence from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city officials, lawyers for the plaintiffs and others.
According to the documents, a senior manager complained in 2004 that Greene retaliated against her at work after she rebuffed his advances. That year, another executive said that Greene, who is black, had touched her inappropriately and called her a racist.
In 2008, a senior manager said Greene fondled her at his home after a work-related dinner, leading her to flee, and verbally abused her at work afterward. And this year, a designer alleged that he demanded sexual favors in exchange for a promotion.
The agency paid sums of $200,000, $98,000 and $350,000, including legal fees, to settle the first three cases. A $250,000 settlement has been proposed in the fourth case.
According to the files, a personnel manager told one of the women not to take Greene’s actions personally “because that’s just how things are at PHA.”
U.S. housing officials vowed to audit the organization and its recent use of public money. HUD provides much of the agency’s $347 million annual budget.
Mayor Michael Nutter welcomed HUD’s audit and questioned the board’s oversight. The five-member board includes a former mayor, a city councilman, a labor leader, the wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and an elderly tenant representative.
The tenant representative, Nellie Reynolds, has been on the board for most of the past quarter-century. Board members are not paid for their service. However, Philadelphia newspapers reported this week that several of their relatives have enjoyed lucrative PHA salaries or contracts.
Reynolds concedes that her daughter, Jackie McDowell, held a six-figure management job for about five years despite having only a high school degree. McDowell lived in PHA housing all the while and still does, her mother said.
She defended her daughter’s employment, saying she was part of the movement to train tenants to run public housing complexes.
Several tenants took to the microphone at Thursday’s board meeting to praise Greene and the improvements to the city’s once-dire public housing stock during his tenure.
Greene moved to Philadelphia from Detroit in 1998 despite being under the cloud of a sexual-harassment suit there. He has been widely praised for his hard-charging management skills.
Last year, Greene’s PHA income topped that of the mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania combined.
Board Chairman John F. Street, a former mayor and a longtime Greene ally, said Thursday, “He could have built a billion houses, but if he sexually harassed one woman on the staff, he’s gone.”
Board members also want to know how the large legal settlements were paid without their knowledge. The settlements are covered by insurance but have a $150,000 deductible that would have come from agency coffers.
In a letter Thursday, HUD said it may pursue a forensic audit after finishing its 60-day preliminary probe of the agency’s management and spending under Greene.
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