Thursday, July 24, 2008

Westchester Guardian.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster Acts Decisively
Appoints New Board Of Housing Commissioners

Last Tuesday morning, July 15, saw the dawn of a new day at the City of Peekskill’s Housing Authority. Calling it a “fresh start”, Mayor Mary Foster, who was elected last November on a platform calling for an overhaul of the City’s Housing Authority, made good on her commitment. Stepping up to the plate, she discharged the existing Board of Housing Commissioners, which included Chairwoman Leesther
Brown, who had proven to be highly controversial and obstructive; Eric Hines, Sandra Bond, and Lorraine Robinson. All had been named as defendants, together with former Mayor John Testa, in a civil rights, job discrimination suit brought by former Authority member, and employee, Gheevarghese A. Thankachan.

The new commissioners, who took office immedi-ately, include Leyla Ditterlizzi, Deputy Mayor Don Bennett, Laureen Sutton, former Mayor Jay Bianco, and Renée Smith, former bureau chief at The Westchester Guardian. The new appointees were widely welcomed
by local residents, grown weary of the rancor and disharmony in recent years, in a city with an uncertain residential and commercial future

Mayor Foster, in changing commissioners, cited expired terms, failure on the part of some to sign oaths of office, and lack of certification
to the Department of Housing and Community Renewal, as partly motivating her decision. Also cited was her concern that the Housing Authority had been labelled “troubled” by examiners from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which had found unacceptable document practices, and the awarding of contracts to “politically connected” firms.

In one instance, a $69,000 contract for installation of security cameras at Bohlmann Towers, was awarded to Advantech despite the company’s having been the highest of three bidders. Advantech had done thousands of dollars of work on the local Republican Committee’s
website. That contract was nullified upon discovery by HUD on a complaint filed by the competing low bidder.

The Mayor declared, “There are still serious outstanding issues from the 2007 HUD onsite review that need to be addressed by the
Board of Commissioners.” She went on, “HUD officials have continued to express concern to me about the Peekskill Housing Authority’s
progress and leadership.” Anxious to move forward, Foster stated, “The new commissioners I have appointed have an array of expertise in both government and public housing, and, they know this city well.” She went further, explaining, “This is an opportunity to start fresh and
put the interests of public housing tenants first. One of the commissioners appointed in November, 2007 has been asked to be part of the newly-constituted board, so that there is some continuity with the Executive Director hired earlier this year.”

Looking ahead to engaging her new Board of Commissioners with the Executive Director, and the HUD adviser, the Mayor observed,
“They have a big job ahead of them, but I am confident they will be able to bring stability and good governance to the Peekskill Housing Authority.” Readers are reminded, it was Mayor Foster, who, in 2007, as a councilwoman, had pressed for federal oversight, stating at the
time, “Now that these findings have been issued by HUD, it’s time to demand closer HUD oversight of the Peekskill Housing Authority.
The purchasing improprieties are another example of the Board’s inability to effectively discharge its duty.”

Under the City’s charter, five members of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor. Two members are elected by the tenants. City residents, particularly those families in public housing, are hopeful that the Housing Authority will quickly stabilize and address itself to the many issues that have gone unattended, including security, for many months.

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