Several different groups want different things to happen to Harold Phipps job, but none have been able to get their way.
Phipps is the executive director of the Peekskill Housing Authority, hired in 2009, who has by two activists groups over the last two years.
In June 2011 four out of five members of the PHA board his contract, but to keep him on board as director until a replacement was hired. But since then, two members who wanted to replace Phipps have left; the two new board members (and the original one who voted in favor of Phipps) are supportive of Phipps; and the federal Housing and Urban Development Department that administers the PHA wants Phipps under contract since he is still working there, according to PHA Corporation Counsel William Florence.
The June vote "became stale when people left the board,” Florence said.
The two remaining members who want Phipps out — Karen Watson and City Councilman Don Bennett, according to Florence — are now the minority of the board, Florence said, so he will not follow their direction. Watson confirmed that she wants Phipps to leave when she asked the mayor for help replacing him at last week’s council meeting. Bennett would not comment on his position regarding Phipps.
Watson was appointed to her position by the mayor two years ago. At Monday’s Council meeting she implored the mayor to help them expedite the process.
“As the commissioner that you had appointed for the PHA, I am indulging your support and your help to expedite the removal of Mr. Phipps,” Watson told mayor Foster. “End this horror trip that all of us are on. The fat lady has sung."
The mayor said she has "no authority to remove the director.”
Florence said that what prompted Watson’s speech at the council meeting was a resolution that he gave to Phipps to present to the PHA board at its meeting on March 22. “That resolution came out of HUD instruction to the board and to me to put Phipps under contract,” Florence said.
HUD New York Regional spokesman Adam Glantz had no comment on whether HUD instructed Florence to put Phipps under contract.
"HUD does not hire or fire," Glantz said. He said that HUD wants to see the PHA stabilize its leadership and that it (HUD) is there to provide technical assistance to the board and to the mayor, city manager and corporation council. "We are there as a partner. We all have the same mission to provide clean and safe housing for residents."
“That resolution wound up on the table but we never got around to it,” Bennett said, explaining that was because someone walked out on the meeting. He also said he had no idea where the resolution had come from.
“(The hiring a replacement for Phipps has) been stalled because of some miscommunication between the board, corporation counsel and HUD," Bennett said. "It is unfortunate that the corporation counsel has misunderstood or has refused to understand what was happening before past chair person left abruptly,” Bennett said. The past chairman was Ron Abad, who had been handling the negotiations with the prospective new director. He resigned in the beginning of this year and handed the negotiations over to Watson. Abad declined an interview for this article.
Bennett, a Peekskill city councilman, has come under fire from the activist groups who want Phipps out. They want him and the Mayor to publicly denounce Phipps. The mayor has always maintained that she has no authority over the PHA board.
Prior to Watson's comments at the meting, several members of the Committee for Justice and the Cortlandt Peekskill Anti Racism Coalition accused Phipps of entering women’s apartments illegally, installing surveillance cameras in community room where a little girls dance group practices and changes out of their clothes, illegally increasing rent, and retaliating against residents who speak out against him publicly.
Last year, Peekskill the allegations that Phipps entered womens' apartments illegally. No one in Bohlman Towers would confirm or report that there was a problem with Phipps doing this.
In addition to the CPARC and Committee for Justice complaints, a former PHA employee has formally spoken out against Phipps and filed a notice of claim filed against the PHA in October 2011, which Patch acquired through a Freedom of Information Request.
In the litigation, the plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to "demeaning and discriminatory treatment" by Phipps, and that she witnessed and was requested to participate in legal and regulatory violations by the PHA. She claims she was fired in August 2011 partly because she threatened to report the violations. HUD’s auditor recommended her termination, Florence said.
This Monday’s Council meeting ended with about a dozen people chanting “Phipps Must Go” as the council continued its business.
The Housing Authority Board is the entity that can make that call with a vote.
The next PHA board meeting is April 19.