Borough Councilman Calls on State to Review Princeton Housing Authority Contract

Low-income housing on Clay Street run by the Princeton Housing Authority.

Princeton Borough Councilman Roger Martindell is calling for the state to investigate the local housing authority’s  administrative practices, including the agency’s contract for its acting executive director.

Scott Parsons resigned as the executive director of the Princeton Housing Authority (HABOP) this fall to take a job with the Lakewood Housing Authority in Ocean County. The housing authority board then turned around and entered in to a one-year shared services agreement with the Lakewood Housing Authority to bring Parsons back for 10 hours a week for $65,000.

The housing authority manages more than 230 affordable units for low-income residents, including families, the elderly and the disabled, in Princeton Borough and Princeton Township.

“The Lakewood Housing Authority immediately entered into a behind-closed-door $65,000 contract pursuant to which HABOP hired back Mr. Parsons as its acting executive director at a rate of compensation that was three quarters of what he’d previously earned at HABOP for one-quarter the number of hours of work,” Martindell said.  “It’s exactly the kind of sweetheart deal that Governor Christie has effectively campaigned against, and it’s a blemish on HABOP’s distinguished record in providing low-cost housing to Princeton residents.”

Martindell has contacted the state Department of Community Affairs asking officials to look in to the matter. Back in October, a representative from the DCA told the HABOP board that the state saw no problems with the arrangement.

Last week, representatives from the HABOP board defended the contract at a Borough Council meeting, saying the contract is with the Lakewood Housing Authority, not directly with Parsons, and that it is the housing authority that is getting paid.

“Scott does not work for the Princeton Housing Authority,” HABOP Board President Leighton Newlin told the Borough Council. “We have an interlocal shared service agreement with the Lakewood. Scott is the conduit.”

Newlin also argued that hiring a regular replacement for Parsons would cost a lot more than the contract with Lakewood.

“Scott is not just the executive director. He is a certified public account, and a very unique individual,” Newlin said. “A big part of his obligations includes the financial stability of the housing authority. If we hired someone else full time we’d also have to  hire someone extra to take on the financial aspects. That means we are saving an additional $60,000.”

But some council members questioned how Parsons could do his old full-time job well in just 10 hours a week.  “”He has another full-time job an hour away and does the same thing? How can he do that? I don’t get it.” Martindell said.

Newlin said Parsons is on site one or two days a week and also regularly responds to issues via phone and e-mail.

“We feel it works very well,” said HABOP Board Member Toby Levy. “The great thing about this arrangement is, if we feel it doesn’t work we can cancel it in 90 days. Right now it works.”

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said given the high unemployment rate, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a full-time, on-site, permanent qualified director at a reasonable price.

“We think he is doing a really good job,” Levy said. “The job situation is not going to change six months from now. We have time.”

Martindell said the deal effectively doubles the rate of compensation for Parsons’ services per hour.  “In any economic climate, such an arrangement is unwarranted, but in today’s climate it’s outrageous,” he said.

Parsons’ salary when he left HABOP was $87,500 per year, with benefits worth an additional $31,964, for a total compensation of $119,464.

“Presumably, Mr. Parsons was working 40 hours per week, for total compensation valued at $57 per hour.  Now he’s making $65,000 per year for 10 hours per week, or $125 per hour,” Martindell said. “That’s more than a doubling of his rate of compensation when he’s devoting a quarter of the time that he used to devote to HABOP business.  How can that be reasonable?

“At that rate of compensation, Mr. Parsons earns more per hour than the Governor per hour,” Martindell said.  “The Governor receives $157,000 in annual compensation, not including benefits, presumably for a 40-hour work week, or about $75 per hour.  How can it be reasonable that Mr. Parson’s part-time work for HABOP deserves compensation substantially exceeding the Governor’s?”

As reported last week, Planet Princeton reviewed public notices in the borough clerk’s office and found the housing authority did not properly provide a Sunshine notice of the two meetings where the contract with the Lakewood Housing Authority was approved.

“That kind of sweetheart deal is inimical to the interests of HABOP tenants and the Princeton community in general,” Martindell said.  “The deal deserves scrutiny by state and local authorities.”

Councilman David Goldfarb questioned whether council members should be comparing Parsons’ salary with the shared services contract and criticizing the agreement. “I am not making any judgment on this matter, but would point out Scott’s  salary is not the total cost for HABOP. You have benefits, liability, plus the fact that you can’t terminate him at will. Now you are paying a $65,000 flat fee. It is a very different type of arrangement. If you are talking about comparisons you need to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges and make sure you get your comparisons correct.”

Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman told the HABOP board to take the council’s concerns back to the board. “At some point in the future, come back to the council and address the concerns so they can be documented,” she said.

Meanwhile, the board has not started a search for a permanent replacement for Parsons. The HABOP board has asked the state to grant the agency a four-month extension to hire a permanent replacement.