PHILADELPHIA -- The embattled executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority was fired Thursday, weeks after allegations surfaced that he used public money to settle sexual harassment complaints and coerced top employees to pay into a slush fund.
The board of the nation's fourth-largest housing agency voted 4-1 to terminate Carl Greene, whom chairman John Street called "a serial sexual harasser."
"He has a fundamental character flaw that will forever obscure his work as the great executive director in the history of the Philadelphia Housing Authority," Street said. "Carl Greene systemically manipulated board procedures, PHA staff and outside lawyers to protect his dirty secret."
Neither Greene nor his attorney, Clifford Haines, attended the meeting. Haines said in a phone interview later that his client was effectively fired last month when he was suspended from his $350,000-a-year job.
Haines said the vote to terminate him was simply grandstanding by Street, a former Philadelphia mayor. Greene has never been asked for his side of the story, Haines said.
"We don't believe they have a legitimate legal basis to terminate him," he told The Associated Press. "This is all a one-sided set-up."
The board, along with federal prosecutors, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is investigating about $900,000 in secret settlements to four female employees who accused Greene of sexual harassment.
Also, a former aide has charged in a lawsuit that about 300 employees were coerced to pay up to $130 a year each toward a Greene-controlled slush fund to keep their jobs.
Mayor Michael Nutter was not surprised by the firing, but he said Thursday that larger questions still remain -- including how Greene was able to keep the settlements from the board for so long. The claims date to 2004.
"It is still unanswered as to how he was able to put together such a conspiracy of silence," Nutter told The Associated Press. "If (the board's) defense is, 'We didn't know,' then the rest of us have to ask, 'How is it possible that you didn't know?' It defies logic and credibility that all of these things could be kept away from the board for so long a period of time."
An internal report compiled by Street and released Thursday alleges at least four Housing Authority staff members "participated under duress" in covering up the payouts.
Greene received kudos during his 12 years on the job for moving low-income residents out of crime-ridden high-rises and into rowhouse-style units.
After his suspension, Greene left the state to seek medical care. Haines said Thursday that Greene remains out-of-state and, while no longer an in-patient, is receiving medical care on a regular basis.
Greene has sued the Housing Authority, alleging breach of contract and violating his due process rights. He is seeking at least $600,000 for the two years remaining on his contract.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell was the lone vote against firing Greene. She said such an action was "premature."
Nutter has said his oversight of the agency is limited because he only appoints two of the five housing board members. Nutter said Thursday he is concerned about the board's search for a new director and hopes that HUD is involved.
The Housing Authority gets most of its $345 million budget from the federal government.