In the HHA: Reform vs. Old Guard showdown – who hires oversight professionals?

This week a series of letters between members of the Hoboken Housing Authority followed a contentious meeting the previous Thursday with extra police called in and one Beth Mason political operative cursing out an elected official as reported on Grafix Avenger and confirmed with witnesses by MSV.

HHA Chairman Jake Stuiver and commissioner Eduardo Gonzalez exchanged views and accusations on unrelated matters.  The dispute centers on changes to the auditing and legal professionals, a process ongoing over months with a disputed RFQ process yielding a limited response from vendors.

Stuiver’s most recent of two letters:

Dear Editor:

I commend Hoboken Housing Authority Commissioner Eduardo Gonzalez for recognizing that it has taken an unconscionably long time to complete our process of hiring a general counsel and auditor. It has indeed taken more than five months to conclude what should have been standard, straightforward procedures under normal circumstances, and it is to my not inconsequential and frequently vocalized frustration that we have been unable to do so.

However, I’d like to invite Commissioner Gonzalez to reevaluate the reasons these important and normally uneventful processes have become bogged down.
As Commissioner Gonzalez should know, the Board of Commissioners is the appointing authority for all contractual vendors and contract employees of the Hoboken Housing Authority. Yet over the past half-year, he has continued to tolerate and rationalize repeated interference and machinations by Executive Director Carmelo Garcia, who has decided to engage in a power struggle with the board, asserting, wrongly, that he, not the board, is the appointing authority. Commissioner Gonzalez has repeatedly, and wrongly, backed up this assertion, causing numerous unnecessary delays in the hiring processes.

Commissioner Gonzalez has told me repeatedly and unequivocally that he stands firmly opposed to changing auditors, and if he wants to publicly hash out the apparent circumstances of the last auditor change four years ago, or the details of whether he has been a help or a hindrance in bringing these RFQ processes to their fruition, that’s a conversation I’m fully prepared to have. As I have told Commissioner Gonzalez numerous times, I am far more concerned with hiring the most competent and trustworthy firms offering the best value for our money than with taking shortcuts and going strictly with whomever is the absolute cheapest. Commissioner Gonzalez’s continued protests against the advertising costs of properly promoting the general-counsel and auditor positions appear to reflect a lack of desire to expand the choices available to the board as appointing authority so that it can move forward with the best possible alternative.

Jake Stuiver
Chairman, Hoboken Housing Authority Board of Commissioners
Jake Stuiver, HHA Chairman as pictured here April 2011 leading a protest against Councilman Michael Russo
who had been seen on FBI surveillance tape agreeing to bribes with federal informant Solomon Dwek.

Eduardo Gonzalez submitted a response to Stuiver’s original letter on Hoboken Patch:

Dear Editor,
Yesterday, Patch posted an open letter from Chairman Jake Stuiver, which among other things attacked my service on the Housing Authority. 
To set the record straight, I have been a member of the Housing Authority for four years.  Mayor Zimmer, Councilman Cunningham, Councilman Bhalla, Councilman Mello and Councilwoman Mason appointed me. Over the past 4 years, I have justified the support of the Mayor and the Council by working with the other Housing Authority Commissioners, as well as the Authority’s staff, to implement innovative programs and much needed reforms. Our accomplishments include resurfacing Mama Johnson Field, increasing the police presence in the Authority, and thus reducing crime. These changes have benefited not just the residents of the Housing Authority, but all residents of Hoboken. 
Recently, however, this progress has come to a grinding halt and under the Chairman’s leadership a once dynamic board is now dysfunctional. As the Chairman writes in his letter, discourse among a governing body is healthy. Our work does require an intellectually honest approach; unfortunately, his actions differ from his written words.
At our meeting in January, I stated that the Board majority was an extension of the City’s politics, not policies. I am not opposed to an auditor or legal counsel; I oppose the time it has taken to choose one. I object to the lack of leadership that is stifling the momentum that had been occurring prior to his appointment as Chairman. If the Board majority had competent leadership it would not take over five months to select legal counsel nor over four months to appoint an auditor, costing the Housing Authority and City taxpayers thousands of dollars.  As the Chairman of the Board, Commissioner Stuiver is responsible for building consensus and moving the Authority forward. The delay in choosing an auditor was his doing. Chairman Stuiver lacks the leadership skill set to fulfill the duties of a Board Chair. His incompetent leadership has paralyzed the Board, alienated residents of the Authority, and has directly jeopardized the financial security of the Authority by delaying the appointment of an auditor. 
I encourage cooperation and reform, as my record as a Commissioner reflects.  Chairman Stuiver says that the Authority is changing. And indeed it is. Unfortunately, it is changing from a dynamic, cooperative Authority where individuals are hired based on merit to an Authority where political friends are rewarded, ideas are dismissed not because of their merits but because they came from the  “wrong” person. Ironically, Chairman Stuiver’s lack of leadership is prohibiting the continuation of the reforms that were making the Authority more efficient and a better place not just for the residents of the Authority but also for the entire city. I remain committed to the Authority, its residents, and the people of Hoboken and hope that the Chairman learns that leadership is more than using a bully pulpit to be a bully. It is about vision and building consensus. When Chairman Stuiver puts people before politics, I will be the first to work with him. Until then, I will continue to fight against cronyism and the Chairman’s “us v. them” politics and for the residents of the Authority and the taxpayers. 
Commissioner Eduardo Gonzalez
Eduardo Gonzalez at a Hoboken Housing Authority meeting held at Fox Hills
Jake Stuiver’s original letter:
Dear Editor:

As Chairman of the Hoboken Housing Authority, I am pleased to say that our past several board meetings have been filled with healthy debate and occasionally contentious discussion over a wide variety of important issues. I think I speak for the entire Reform majority when I say debate and even friction are positive attributes of a governing body that’s doing its job properly and digging into the hard work of hashing out the issues and making informed decisions.  I do not wince at serious, meaty engagement with my fellow commissioners — I welcome it.

Unfortunately, at our last meeting, Housing Authority Commissioner Eduardo Gonzalez took an important discussion about an auditing proposal and digressed into what appeared to be a preplanned “made for television” statement that falsely and inappropriately introduced false, counterproductive allegations of ethnic bias.
The Hoboken Housing Authority is at a critical juncture right now, with a number of pivotal issues coming before the board with high stakes and consequential outcomes that will be felt for generations. The work ahead is serious business requiring a sober and intellectually honest approach.
Commissioner Gonzalez said the Housing Authority board leadership has become an extension of the policies of the Zimmer administration and Reform majority on the City Council. On that point, I agree with him 100 percent. However, I do not share his view that it is an opening for criticism. I wear it as a badge of honor. Reform leadership in Hoboken government has yielded countless improvements in operational efficiency, routing of corruption, nationally recognized innovation and improvements in people’s lives.
The Housing Authority is the third-largest budget in Hoboken, and the only one that has yet to undergo the audits and professionalization that have produced so many positive changes at City Hall and the Board of Education. I encourage Commissioner Gonzalez to recognize that change has arrived at the Housing Authority, and while his cooperation will be welcomed, his obstruction will not be tolerated.


Jake Stuiver
Chairman, Hoboken Housing Authority

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