December 13, 2010; Source: Philadelphia Inquirer | Not long before the executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Carl Greene, was canned for “failing to report a series of sexual-harassment claims against him”, he set up a nonprofit called the Pennsylvania Association of Public Service Agencies (PAPSA), recruited a few state-related agencies to join, and added in some funds from PHA accounts. A HUD forensic audit of Greene’s former agency has suggested that the PHA money in PAPSA might not have been legit. For now Greene isn’t talking, and the other members of PAPSA are running for the hills—and calling for PAPSA’s dissolution.

PAPSA has the ostensible if vague mission, according to a PHA spokesperson, “to improve the efficiency of all its members by sharing best practices and certain resources, such as public information, financial management, human resources, and strategic planning.” PAPSA has the feel of a nonprofit created as a soft landing for a public agency executive who knew he was going to get sacked.

Greene had recruited as PAPSA officers the chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority (which paid PAPSA $90,000 in “dues”), the chairman of the School Reform Commission, and the board chairman of Temple University. The DRPA, SRC, and Temple PAPSA board members all happen to be high-priced Philadelphia lawyers who had done six- and seven-figures worth of business with Greene at the PHA. Was their joining Greene’s new organization a way of saying thank you for the past business?

Part of a “wide-ranging criminal probe of PHA, including two other PHA-related nonprofits created by Greene,” the HUD audit questioned the legality of the PHA’s $50,000 membership fee and an additional $29,000 in federal funds spent by the agency for PAPSA’s legal start-up work. As word of Greene’s alleged sexual harassment problems at the PHA leaked out, the PAPSA’s agency members grew very uncomfortable, some not delivering their budgeted dues payments (such as $35,000 from the SRC) and others asking for their money back (for example, $25,000 from Philadelphia Parking Authority). The Philadelphia Inquirer headline suggests that PAPSA was unraveling, but the nonprofit organization seems to have been threadbare from the beginning.

The story raises obvious questions: Didn’t anyone on the PHA’s board ever do any due diligence over the connection, if any, of PAPSA to the PHA’s public housing mission?  How could top white shoe Philadelphia lawyers with combined decades of legal work for public agencies turn a blind eye to their apparent conflicts of interest in signing on with Greene’s dubious nonprofit venture? Although state-related agencies in Pennsylvania seem to operate with little regulatory oversight, wasn’t there anyone at the Pennsylvania AG’s office or the Pennsylvania Department of State prepared to use the sniff test about Greene’s pre- and post-PHA nonprofit organizing activities? It sounds like everyone was committed to a “see no evil, hear no evil” strategy while being aware that there was a great possibility of doing evil.—Rick Cohen