Future Remains Uncertain for Providence Housing Director
Thursday, August 02, 2012
The board of commissioners for the Providence Housing Authority (PHA) on Wednesday yet again delayed a vote on to determine the future of the agency’s embattled executive director Stephen O’Rourke.
O’Rourke, who has been accused of sexually harassing several female employees and mismanaging federal funds, has been on paid administrative leave since April.
O’Rourke’s contract allows for him to be terminated with or without cause, but he would be paid a severance package if he is let go without cause. Given his more-than two decade career with the agency, it is believed that figure could approach over $300,000.
The board hired an outside lawyer to investigate the sexual harassment claims reported in a 37-page complaint by a whistleblower employee who described her five-year tenure as the PHA’s executive administrative officer as “hostile, offensive and extremely stressful.” The lawyer’s findings have been discussed in several closed-session meetings in recent weeks.
The woman, Elizabeth Herosy, claims that O’Rourke touched at least two female employees, kept pornography on his work computer and had a track record for making inappropriate comments to employees. At least one other female employee has come forward to verify some of Herosy’s complaints.
Since the original complaint, the chairman of the agency’s board of directors has resigned.
Herosy also suggested that O’Rourke favored several employees and claims that she was aware o no-bid contracts being awarded to certain companies. O’Rourke has labeled Herosy a “disgruntled employee” who was unhappy she didn’t receive a promotion. He has acknowledged that there was an incident where he did have “Sports Illustrated and Playboy” in his e-mail, but he claims the material was never actually downloaded and said it wasn’t offensive.
O’Rourke has led Providence Housing since 1987 and is credited with turning around an agency that was nearly insolvent into one of the top-performing housing authorities in the country. The $45 million operation was running a $3 million surplus as of April, O’Rourke said at the time.
During an interview with GoLocalProv earlier this year, he said nearly half his workforce is made up of females and that many women have been placed in leadership positions as evidence that he has treated women with respect during his tenure with the agency.
O’Rourke has acknowledged being upset with the lack of support he has received from board members and the Mayor’s office. Although he never contacted O’Rourke to learn more about the accusations, Mayor Angel Taveras returned $500 in campaign contributions earlier this year and told GoLocalProv he didn’t plan to speak with O’Rourke during the investigation.
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, O’Rourke earned $244,257 in salary, benefits and “other compensation” during the 2010 fiscal year
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