Secret sex-harass cases put Philly housing czar's $350,000 job on line; board meets Thursday

For more than a decade, housing czar Carl Greene earned kudos for transforming the city's moribund public housing agency into an innovative, hard-charging workplace.

Then news surfaced this month that his luxury home was in foreclosure and that the Internal Revenue Service had placed a $50,000 lien on it.

Now the Philadelphia Housing Authority's board has learned its lawyers quietly settled at least four sexual-harassment complaints involving Greene since 2005 — including a recent $250,000 settlement with an interior designer who said Greene demanded sexual favors in exchange for a promotion. The woman's lawyer accused Greene, who's unmarried, of "serial predatory sexual misconduct."

With the storm growing, the typically combative leader has mostly ducked from public view.

Greene, 53, surfaced briefly to talk to reporters late last week but is on leave from work and isn't expected Thursday at a board meeting where directors who long gave him carte blanche to run the agency will ponder his fate.

Board Chairman John F. Street, a former mayor and longtime Greene supporter, said Greene "no longer has a presumption of fitness for the job."

"We've had four cases, at least, where the authority has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars on the basis of conduct by the executive director," Street said. "How did all this happen without the approval of the board?"

Greene, who grew up in public housing in Washington, D.C., moved to Philadelphia from Detroit in 1998 despite being under the cloud of a sexual-harassment suit there. Then-Mayor Ed Rendell, now Pennsylvania's governor, said he hired Greene only after a thorough review of that pending claim.

Plaintiff Gertrude Faye Johnson, who settled the Detroit lawsuit days before trial, complained this week that nobody heeded her warning.

Greene has denied the latest harassment allegation, involving the designer, and has blamed his mortgage mess on the IRS lien. He challenges IRS allegations that he failed to pay taxes on several years of outside income and disputes the foreclosure lawsuit filed by the Wells Fargo bank last month.

"My lack of attention to my personal financial dealings is a failure on my part," Greene said last week, blaming the oversight on job-related stress.

He said he has since paid the mortgage through October.

The bank had said he owed $7,500 in missed payments and fees dating to April 1. Greene took out a $400,000 mortgage to buy the $615,000 condominium three years ago.

Greene, who has no dependents, earned a base salary of $306,370 plus a $41,188 bonus last year.

Besides the sexual-harassment cases, management employees have complained in lawsuits and in private that the boss strong-armed them into supporting a scholarship program named after himself and into paying $2.12 a week through payroll deductions into a management training account.

Street said the housing board heard Greene was "very aggressive" in his treatment of employees.

"If an employee didn't do his job, he might put a desk in the hallway," Street said.

But he and others also say Greene brought a strong work ethic to the longtime patronage den while moving thousands of low-income tenants from dangerous high-rises to newly built town house neighborhoods.

"We were all impressed by what Greene had done to turn around the image and reality of public housing in Philadelphia. And that made everyone a little less likely to listen to the rumors," said Zachary Stalberg, director of the Committee of Seventy, a watchdog group that called Wednesday for Greene to resign.

Stalberg said he thinks Greene can be "an extraordinary change agent and also a problematic CEO."

"I think they (board members) weren't paying close enough attention, nor were the rest of the political establishment in town, including me," he said.

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, a board member, on Wednesday called Greene a "visionary" and a "genius." She said she doesn't want to change "the status quo" until Greene returns from leave and can address the allegations.

But City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who controls two of the five board seats — Debra Brady, the wife of Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, and regional AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding — demanded quick action.

"I think the board needs to take some immediate action, like a suspension," he said, "particularly since it doesn't look like he's offering any explanation."