Monday, August 25, 2014

Carmelo Garcia: 'HHA's massive mountain of problems due to everyone but me'

To the surprise of no Hoboken political observers, the former head of the Hoboken Housing Authority, Carmelo Garcia is pointing fingers at everyone and everything but himself for the mounting problems uncovered in the agency since his contract's termination earlier this month.

The latest scathing assessment came last week when the federal agency, Housing & Urban Development offered its report after a sample review of contracts under the former Executive Director.

On Thursday, the federal office overseeing the HHA, HUD Newark dropped its bomb with a review of eight contracts in a report made public late last week.  Coming behind the July audit findings published on MSV, the massive problems of the agency reveal a consistent pattern of mismanagement, incompetence, poorly led, trained and directed staff with the looming possibility of federal laws broken and corresponding criminal liability.

In the weekend paper, Carmelo Garcia facing the potential of exposure on every front sent an email pointing the finger at everyone excluding himself claiming that most of the problems were due to hurricanes and the HHA board's "obstructionism for the last two years" which "created these situations." 

Neither the independently assessed audit firm results released in July nor the HUD Newark report absolved Carmelo Garcia or found acceptable his claim using either Hurricane Irene or Hurricane Sandy for their conclusions saying he had clearly acted beyond the scope of procurement rules even taking into account any related emergencies.  

Garcia in addition to unilaterally extending and procuring services without following federally mandated procurement law compounded concerns earlier this year when MSV exclusively reported in addition to his unilateral procurement actions, he had taken thousands of dollars for his political committee last March from HHA vendors with no contracts.

Also blaming the disaster of HHA recordkeeping on the HHA board of commissioners, Garcia is silent to his prior insistence of total control of all HHA employees and "sole appointing authority" for contracts. The HHA board had no hand in day to day operations, an aspect Garcia was insistent remain under his sole control. The HHA board's powers under the controversial five year contract Garcia held permitted them only an up or down vote on contracts.

The finger was also pointed by Garcia to his own handpicked staff. In agency meetings earlier this year the former HHA Executive Director had begun asking his staff and Chief Financial Officer to answer a series of increasingly uncomfortable questions surrounding contracts, or the lack thereof and related operational matters. Those questions were mostly raised by HHA commissioner Dana Wefer who would be elected chair in the summer in a 5-2 vote.

To some observers, Garcia who always had answers if not plausible ones at the ready, resorting to calling on others was a sign of possible trouble. Garcia in his email attempted to defend missing records pointing to flooding as the reason. A failed software system was never brought back online forcing HHA staff to do everything manually.

In addition, another Garcia defense came from a familiar place. A thrice rejected HHA commissioner candidate Barbara Reyes, emailed a statement to the Hudson Reporter claiming federal 'Sequestration' cost the HHA "25-30 percent less monies." It's unclear why Garcia supporter Reyes emailed the Hudson Reporter making such a claim.  In 2013, the reform majority on the City Council rejected Reyes' approval to a seat on the seven member HHA Board of Commissioners on three separate occasions on a party line vote.

The termination of Garcia's contract earlier this month ends the major reservations by the public and Hoboken officials on the controversial proposed redevelopment in the HHA called Vision 20/20. The undocumented plan publicly appeared as a brochure several years ago but Garcia pushed it repeatedly to anyone who would listen and demanded time to present the glossy material in the Hoboken City Council. The request was repeatedly denied by former Council President Peter Cunningham.

The plan itself was never presented in any coherent legal form or Master Plan and saw strong skepticism by Mayor Zimmer, a majority of the Hoboken City Council and the public. The Old Guard council minority repeatedly insisted it be approved with no Master Plan or any legal documents reviewed with Councilwoman Beth Mason being the most vocal in demanding it be approved anyway.

Old Guard council frustrations in repeated foiled attempts to see Vision 20/20 approved last year led to ugly charges of racism on several occasions with reference to reform council members being like the Ku Klux Klan but the council majority refused to yield to the intimidation and rabid complaints of Carmelo Garcia's spokespeople in the HHA dubbed Carmelitos.

HHA Chair Dana Wefer recently spoke of using millions in available grants in the range of six million dollars to improve the existing buildings in the HHA impacting the most agency residents. After those improvements, Wefer has called for further action with replacing existing HHA buildings a priority.

Former contracted head of the HHA, Carmelo Garcia surprised no one emailing a response to the scathing indictment on his running the agency by the federal agency charged with oversight, HUD and blaming everyone except himself.
Known as "The Wire" in the NJ Assembly for his taping others, Mister Carmelo's rumored library collection may
be of interest to federal investigators. Or perhaps that's the hope to escape further trouble.

Talking Ed Note: The Old Guard council's repeated attempts to protect Carmelo Garcia's control over the HHA and maintain a pliant HHA board failed leading to a 2014 board led by HHA commissioner Dana Wefer acting with fiduciary oversight. The decisive changes came after the November 2013 election where Reform swept both the mayor's chair and three at-large council seats. 

The recent sequence of events exposing major issues in the HHA puts Carmelo Garcia's civil lawsuits in jeopardy. His first "ethnic cleansing" lawsuit was thrown out of Hudson County Superior Court last January. His second filing lacking the bizarre offensive claim was mostly thrown out of court as well. Any third attempt will be seriously weakened with the reports independent of the HHA board pointing to his culpability.