Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Carmelo Garcia choice of HHA legal counsel voted down for fourth time

HHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia sees legal counsel criticized by HUD voted down

After the re-org meeting last Thursday (shown below), the Hoboken Housing Authority held its regular meeting and again the topic of its legal counsel was up for approval.  HUD the federal agency with oversight had disqualified the process advancing the current counsel Charles Daglian.  For the fourth time, it was voted down.

Daglian who saw controversy erupt when he presided over the meeting where his contract was on the agenda for approval has seen criticism by the federal oversight agency HUD and also Hoboken Corporate Counsel Melissa Longo who was asked by then Chairman Jake Stuiver to offer advice on that matter, a request permitted within HUD guidelines.

HHA Executive Director Carmelo Garcia has acted to block any new professionals be approved and extend new eyes on the agency for almost a year as former Chairman Stuiver sought new legal counsel and auditors.

The questions arising from the staunch opposition by Garcia and the commissioners consistently backing his position led to several contentious meetings where HHA residents wore "Benedict Jake" t-shirts provided to them by Garcia and Old Guard backers.  Stuiver had led a Thanksgiving dinner the last several years for HHA residents providing funding himself for its success.

In the video below, Garcia injects himself as board secretary to arbitrate on the sequence of a vote between commissioners nominated for chair: Greg Lincoln and Rob Davis and deems it "a tie."

Garcia then refuses point blank to call the roll on the first nomination of Greg Lincoln.  The legal counsel is seen but not heard making remarks before Stuiver concedes a vote for Rob Davis.

Later in the same video a resident presents a petition to see Jake Stuiver out as commissioner and interjects repeatedly along with other HHA residents backing Garcia's power play to see another resident, Barbara Reyes seated in the same meeting.  (HHA commissioners are appointed by the City Council or Governor's appointment.)

"Take your seat Barbara," the resident is clearly seen and heard saying.  There is no admonishment by Garcia or legal counsel Charles Daglian for any of these interrruptions.

Also note, all resistance and interference to the proceedings of the meeting by Garcia end completely once Rob Davis takes over his seat as Chair.  Davis would call the vote himself on the vote for Vice Chair.  The motion to elect Dave Mello into the seat failed on a 3-3 vote.

Tonight Dave Mello will be voting as an at-large City Councilman on the Garcia pick Barbara Reyes for commissioner to bump out Stuiver.

Nothing less than the oversight of the HHA is at stake.

The HHA board has not been able to obtain numerous public documents in question including resident information, HHA employee headcount details and also until recently, the secretive contract of the HHA Executive Director himself.

In one recent meeting, Jake Stuiver asked to see Carmelo's Garcia's contract more than a dozen times when it was brought out in a meeting disputing separation of powers on vendor selection.  The contract was quoted and promptly handed back to Charles Daglian who quickly put it into his personal bag never to appear again.

MSV obtained the contract in an OPRA request to Trenton.

Questions on where seven figures during the time of Hurricane Irene to elevate generators went is one of several larger issues looming in the HHA.

The question is who will seek its accountability.



The Backstretch
: As for the surprise vote for Rob Davis as new Chairman, there's two perspectives. Jake Stuiver sent an email saying of his successor, "All of the reform commissioners agreed that I, as a holdover, should not continue as chair. Because Judy had served on the Board the longest, and because Greg and Dave had not yet completed all their coursework (though they still had time remaining to do so), I thought Judy would make the best choice.

I explained my reasoning to her weeks ago, including the fact that Greg and Dave had not yet completed all their coursework, and asked her whether she was open to it. At first she said she was open to it, but she ultimately told me, only days before the meeting, that for a variety of reasons she could not serve as either chair or vice chair. This left only Greg or Dave as choices for chair, and since the coursework is not a legal prerequisite, I asked Greg if he would take it on and he agreed to. I discussed this choice with my colleagues, all of whom, including Judy, knew that Greg had not completed his coursework yet, a topic that was specifically discussed, and nobody indicated that they could not support him for that reason. We all agreed, I thought, that it was much more important to have a chair who was committed to conducting the necessary oversight than to have a chair who had already completed all their classes, given the absence of any rule to the contrary. Given this history, I was genuinely shocked when Judy cast her vote for Rob Davis, since she knew about the issue with respect to the classes all along and had never indicated to me, or as far as I know to Dave or Greg, that this would present a problem for her."

Judy Burrell explained in a phone interview why she felt compelled to vote for Rob Davis. "I didn't know that Greg Lincoln hadn't taken any classes until that night during the meeting. If he had taken one or two it would be fine but to take none? I found out after everyone else during the meeting."

Adding to the atmosphere of incrimination yelled out by residents common during the HHA meetings, Burrell said, "I felt embarrassed because event though it's not the same as Maryanne Camporeale, I know the mentality."

During the meeting, a resident is clearly seen on the video (above) equating Camporeale's situation where she in effect resigned by not taking the required coursework within 18 months to Greg Lincoln who is scheduled to take courses this year. Burrell said she hoped to make the best of it, "I thought okay, Rob (Davis) will be chair and then we'll have Dave (Mello) be vice-chair."

The action by Burrell however was not reciprocated by the other commissioners: Jeanne Rodriguez, Rob Davis and Eduardo Gonzalez who consistently back Carmelo Garcia. They have stood together and consistently voted with Garcia's agenda.

Burrell concluded the interview recounting the problems she's faced sitting on the board at a recent meeting where a HHA resident began verbally attacking her. The resident in question is believed to be Evelyn Rodriguez. Burrell would call over Lt. Campbell at the end of the meeting who came over to provide support and had another Hoboken Police Officer escort Burrell safely home. (MSV witnessed Lt. Campbell's assistance.)

Rodriguez filed a harassment charge against Burrell the next day. Burrell has responded with her own complaint and the case has been moved to Jersey City. Rodriguez refused to sit with a mediator in Hoboken before the case was moved.

Talking Ed Note: Tim Occhipinti and Beth Mason have nominated Carmelo Garcia's choice, Barbara Reyes for HHA set for tonight's council meeting. Don't be surprised if Garcia sends in a squadron to back his pick too.  He knows he can't have his friend seated so he'll have someone equally accommodating.

Why should the Old Guard council benefit from their legal manufactured lawsuit and control any board in Hoboken let alone flip the HHA to themselves? Why reward their continued cost to the people of Hoboken ($30,000 and counting) giving them control over anything? They lost the staged lawsuit early this year in Hudson County Superior Court. A hearing is set for later this month on their latest appeal to the Appellate Court. Professionals dedicated to putting energy into the role of HHA commissioner is required. Nothing less is remotely acceptable.

If you want to truly help all the residents of the HHA, stand tall.  The reform council members should begin the hard work of finding talented, energetic individuals who will do the required work at the HHA.  When Jim Doyle takes his rightful place back on the City Council, see it through.