Housing Authority to pay city, three members promptly resign

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Ed Price among three leaving board 

OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Housing Authority board voted 4-3 to reimburse the city $973,542 owed for repairs to Peck’s Beach Village in the wake of Hurricane Sandy at a Tuesday, May 20 board meeting.

After the vote was taken, three commissioners who voted “no,” Chairman Ed Price, Vice-Chairman Steve Lalli and Marlene Sheppard, abruptly resigned.

“I couldn’t sign the check,” Price said, citing a lack of confidentiality with commission members and undue influence of Mayor Jay Gillian on the process.

“There is no point, I have no influence, the mayor controls the board,” he said after the meeting. “The board is tainted; people are blindly following the mayor and not doing their fiduciary responsibility.

“The best thing I could do was get out because I don’t want to be responsible in a year or two when all the problems come out. I wanted to absolve myself.”

The saga began after Sandy flooded Peck’s Beach Village, the 60-unit federal Department of Housing and Urban Development low-income housing project between Fourth and Fifth streets on Oct. 29, 2012, displacing dozens of families.

Displaced families were initially placed in motel rooms as far away as Galloway Township and Absecon. The city moved to place them in local motels, a temporary fix because the rooms would soon be needed for seasonal rentals.

Price, who unsuccessfully challenged Gillian in the May 13 mayoral election, said city officials acted hastily and did not follow proper channels in remediating the units.

Gillian said he had to cut through red tape and bureaucracy due to extraordinary circumstances to get displaced families back in their homes. 

Gillian said he is flummoxed by Price’s statements.

“A hurricane hit,” he said. “The Housing Authority did nothing to help the residents. This administration stepped in, following all the rules and regulations. If we had not, the families would still not be in their homes.”

The city, he said, used COAH funds, authorizing local contractors to remediate the damage and replace first floor drywall, carpeting, kitchens, bathrooms and heating units.

Gillian said displaced families asked for a meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church. After listening to the hardships they experienced, city officials took action.

“We realized that we were not getting any help from anyone,” he said. “Communities up north were in far worse shape, they were a priority for the state. We had to help ourselves. We did everything we could to try to help people.

“We had a representative of the city working together with a representative of the Housing Authority to make sure that everything was done properly.”

“I am at a complete loss. I do not understand what Mr. Price is talking about. As mayor, my job is to help people. It’s very simple.”

In addition to sparring over this issue, the two recently faced off in Ocean City’s mayor’s race.  Gillian won on May 13 with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Gillian said this week that the Housing Authority did not have a plan in place to deal with such a catastrophe.

The city spent $1.255 million to mitigate the damage.

“If the city had not stepped in, these families would not be in their homes, families would be destroyed. We had families all over the place, busing them in for school. They wanted to be home.

“We put 60 families back in their homes,” he said. “We were worried about families and Mr. Price is worried about cabinets.”

Immediately after Sandy hit, Price said, the Housing Authority met and voted to clean soggy carpets and repair drywall.  

He said he was surprised when the city moved to take the next step; repairing the units without going through what he said were the proper channels.

“We, the Housing Authority, didn’t hear anything else until the construction started,” he said. Price said Housing Authority Commissioner Bill Woods and Mayor Jay Gillian arranged for the construction to commence.

“A week after all of the families moved in we had another storm and they had to be evacuated,” Price said.

Price said he requested copies of the bills from city officials; they were slow in arriving and there were “all kinds of problems.”

“There was no scope of the work, nothing was itemized, nothing was listed about the work to be performed,” he said. “They just got people to go in and do it.”

Meanwhile, Price said he struggled to get a shared services agreement signed.
“We didn’t have all the documentation, and all they could say was ‘pay us,’” he said.

Price also said there was no confidentiality on the board; some members talked to city officials when they should not have.

“Everybody tried to paint me as the bad guy; that I don’t care about the residents, I do care about the residents,” he said. “The buildings have to be elevated and the families are going to have to be displaced again. There was no shared services agreement. The cabinetry is improper, they’re not ADA compliant. The appliances do not meet HUD energy recommendations. It’s clear that this was not in the best interest of the residents.

“Nobody wants to look at these errors and what they could cost,” he said. “They didn’t elevate the buildings, so it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, they will flood again.

Everybody wants a medal pinned to their chest that they helped the residents, but clearly this was not in the best interest of the residents. I think the best thing is to figure out what we did wrong and fix it.”

Price said many other families were in dire need but the city focused on Peck’s Beach Village.

Second ward Councilman Antwan McClellan regularly attends OCHA meetings, and has been actively involved in the process.

McClellan said the former executive director of the OCHA, Nick Thompson, provided no plan for a flooding emergency and offered no guidance.

“He did not attend our meetings and did not advise us,” after the flood, he said. “Through the process, he was not in contact with us. The city had to move forward without any guidance.

“We had families torn apart,” McClellan said. “It was very emotional; we knew we had to do everything we could to get these families back. The schools were going to send buses for them, the holidays were coming up, and you’re in a motel in Absecon? That’s no good.

“The mayor got them back on the island, in motels, but we needed a permanent solution.”

The OCHA applied for grant funding to elevate the buildings, but McClellan said the wheels of bureaucracy move very slowly.

“That won’t be anytime soon, meanwhile, everyone is happy, they’re all home,” he said. When the time comes to elevate the buildings, there will be time to plan, to temporarily relocate the families.

“When Sandy hit, the demand for housing far outpaced the supply,” he said.

“If we hadn’t have acted, these families would still not be home, I have no doubt,” he said. “It’s disappointing that this has happened. Everybody knew what was happening, it was not a surprise.

“The families are thrilled, without a doubt,” he said. “I have heard no complaints whatsoever.”

The Housing Authority received reimbursement from Federal Emergency Management Association, FEMA and flood insurance, but refused to reimburse the city. OCHA officials wanted HUD to be involved. McClellan said he was in contact with HUD.

“They said they had nothing to do with this; ‘this is your money, it needs to be resolved between the two parties, the city and the Housing Authority,’” he said. “They said this was entirely our issue.”

Price said he was concerned that proper procedures were not followed, questioning the city using COAH funds to pay for the mitigation.

“From day one Mr. Price should have paid us,” Gillian said. “We keep doing what is necessary, we keep working together.”

Gillian said everything that was done was above board and legal.
“If we did something wrong we would not have gotten the Certificate of Occupancy,” he said.

The total cost of repairs was $1.25 million, offset by reimbursements already paid by the OCHA.

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