Shakeup at housing authority raises questions
ROCHESTER — A new group that formed in light of Alex Castro’s ouster as executive director of the Rochester Housing Authority continues to call for investigations by state and federal officials.
The RHA’s board of commissioners voted Oct. 14 to remove Castro from his post and hired City Councilman Adam McFadden as interim director the following day. Residents and community leaders have expressed outrage at the firing, citing a lack of "due process." Justice for Rochester was subsequently formed on the heels of a contentious RHA board meeting Oct. 22 during which the subject of Castro’s firing was addressed.
"It’s about the whole city," Anthony Plonczynski, legislative aide for City Councilwoman Jackie Ortiz, said of the RHA situation. "This could happen to anybody. Everybody should really think about themselves. Anyone who has been mistreated or downtrodden. … We’re ready to say no more."
Justice for Rochester has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the housing authority and whether the mayor should remove the entire RHA board, according to the group’s website, justiceforrochester.org. The group also is calling on the state attorney general to consider opening an investigation into the situation.
HUD officials attended the Oct. 22 board meeting and said that they were there to observe only and are conducting an investigation into the situation. Spokesman Adam Glantz said that review will require close scrutiny of the documented record.
"HUD is currently reviewing the specifics of the situation to determine whether the RHA’s actions violated the conflict-of-interest provision of RHA’s Annual Contributions Contract (ACC) with us," he stated in an e-mail. "HUD will work closely with the RHA Board and Mayor (Lovely) Warren to ensure the Authority complies with federal regulations and protects the best interests of RHA residents. We are confident, based on the information provided thus far, that a takeover of the RHA will not be necessary to achieve those goals."
The attorney general’s office has not responded to requests for comment.
Subsequent to the RHA’s Oct. 22 meeting, Mayor Warren issued a statement calling for McFadden to step down immediately but stated she would keep the board in place. McFadden said he will stay in his three-month interim role but will not seek the position permanently, according to a news reports.
Ortiz also has called for a review of the board’s decision by the city’s Office of Public Integrity, Board of Ethics and its legal counsel.
"Take responsibility for any possible missteps," Ortiz said to the board Oct. 22. "Ask for assistance if needed, address and remove conflicts of interest. Include your residents and conduct a fair and process to find a director who best serves the needs of the residents, the authority and the board’s vision."
Jules Smith, Castro’s attorney, said that the RHA board did not give his client notice of his impending removal even though his contract stipulates that he receive a 30-day notice of any issues to have time to address them. His termination letter also gave no reason for his firing, Smith said.
Castro had received a five-year contract extension at the beginning of this year, which means his contract would run until 2021, Smith confirmed. With a $140,000 annual salary, that puts the value of the contract at about $1.4 million, without taking into account such other benefits as health insurance and retirement, he noted.
"My whole focus is they (board members) violated the contract," Smith said. "Ultimately, there’s a provision for how that can be remedied. … I want to get my client justice."
He is hoping for an amicable resolution, which could include reinstatement or a fair severance package, he explained.
"I’m waiting to see. I’m a Pollyanna. I believe this can all be worked out," Smith said. "If it can’t, that’s why you see (lawsuits). But it’s a better system when you don’t have judges involved and judgments."
The board’s decision to fire Castro came into question during its Oct. 22 meeting as more than 40 speakers addressed members on the issue. Many carried signs that read: "Political Bullying at its best: Where is due process?"
Dorothy Tucker, president of the Hudson-Ridge Tower, said Castro’s firing leaves the authority’s board with no Hispanic representation.
"We need to know the truth," she said. "That’s the most important thing. … But there should be Hispanic representation because we have a large Hispanic population."
Roberto Burgos, a former city senior community housing planner, called the board’s decision an act of "political oppression" that lacked due process and should not be allowed to stand. His emotional comments received applause from the standing-room-only crowd gathered at the meeting.
"The board of the Rochester Housing Authority should be ashamed of themselves for the manner that Alex Castro was taken out," he said. "What goes around comes around."