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Peekskill Housing Director Says He Has Votes for New Contract

This story was updated at 12:30 p.m.

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- The Peekskill Housing Authority's current Executive Director said Thursday he had enough votes to get a new contract, at least electronically.

Executive Director Harold Phipps told board members at Thursday's meeting at Bohlmann Towers that he had enough votes from members who submitted electronically prior to the meeting to renew his contract and he needed the board to vote on the measure.

"Board members voted on an extension of my contract shortly after our last meeting along with the budget," Phipps told those in attendance. "Tonight it's being brought up to ratify the telephone votes and emailed votes that were brought in."

Phipps, whose contract was not renewed by the board last year, has been criticized by some residents over what they say is inappropriate behavior and is the target of a sexual discrimination lawsuit by a former employee. Board members Donald Bennett and Karen Watson have publicly stated they do not want his contract renewed.

Bennett, a city council member, told Phipps that it was illegal to vote anywhere but at an open meeting and told Phipps that only the board chair can ask for a vote.

"Electronic voting is not acceptable in the state of New York," Bennett said. "It's a violation of the Sunshine Law and open rules law."

Phipps said the vote had already been taken and urged the board to approve the results.

"This board has accepted it," Phipps responded. "We ran into a situation where we need to get something done."

Board chair Leyla Ditterlizzi, who replaced Ron Abad after he resigned from the board in December, said she wanted to discuss the contract issue with board members in an executive session at a later date before any action was taken, something board member Karen Watson said she and Bennett had requested prior to the meeting but had been rebuked.

Earlier in the meeting, Phipps had given a list of things he had accomplished in the previous fiscal year, such as ventilation cleaning, a new roof and renovations of the building's common area. The authority had lost $300,000 in the year, but Phipps pointed out that in the previous year the authority had lost $508,000.

Among cost saving actions listed by Phipps were getting HUD to allow them to use the principal of development funds that had been sitting in the authority's bank account, $600,000, for the Turnkey development. He also acquired a community development block grants of $175,00 for that project, he said.

"I brought in, with the help of staff, $1,810,000," Phipps said. "I think that's good."

Problems that persisted, according to Phipps, were HUD operating subsidy cuts, uncollected rent from tenants, unrecorded income from tenants that should go towards rent and families not reporting everyone living in their apartment on their lease. Other factors included fuel costs, taxes to the city and benefits paid to housing authority employees.

Rent was being offered at 30 percent below market value, according to Phipps, but was up from 60 percent below market before he started in 2009, he added.

Phipps said he hoped to cut costs by switching from oil to gas heat and hoped to get grants that could amount to almost $250,000.

In Other News:

  • The board voted to approve an operating budget for the 2012-13 operating year, as well as a revised policy for dealing with people banned from housing authority grounds, an updated confidentiality policy and a HUD-required occupancy policy.
  • The board also voted to write off $130,789 in uncollectable tenant rent generated by tenants who have left or been evicted without paying off their debts. The debt had to be written off to avoid getting a financial score of 'troubled' by HUD, according to PHA attorney Bill Florence.
  • The meeting was the first for new board members Joanne Dunn and Pauline Gilchrist.
  • Several residents who attended the meeting complained that there were not enough seats for them to use and that they could not hear what some board members were saying because board members did not use microphones.

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