Embattled Providence Housing Director to Receive $250,000 Severance Package
Friday, August 17, 2012
The executive director of the Providence Housing Authority (PHA) is expected to receive an approximately $250,000 severance package after board members voted nearly unanimously to accept his resignation Thursday evening.
Only board member and Councilman Nick Narducci voted against accepting O’Rourke’s resignation, citing personal reasons.
While board chairman Tom Ryan said the board has “not put pen to paper” on O’Rourke’s final compensation package, he said the board has granted him the authority sign off on a deal that would officially end the director’s time with the PHA. Ryan refused to comment directly on whether the resignation is a sign that O’Rourke could claim he has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Complaint Divided PHA
In a 37-page complaint that became public in February, Elizabeth Herosy, the PHA’s former executive administrative officer, claimed she had witnessed O’Rourke commit “serious misconduct, fraud and perhaps criminal activity” during her five-year stint with the agency. Herosy accused O’Rourke of “gross misconduct” including sexual and other types of harassment as well discrimination that has resulted in her not receiving any promotions.
“I have been discriminated against and I feel intimidated in this workplace, and have been denied wage increases, promotions for which I have been imminently qualified, access to apply for any promotions for which I have been qualified, pay and benefits that others receive, compensation for hours that I have been forced to work as ordered by the executive director, access to education and training programs, morning and afternoon coffee breaks and normal lunch breaks,” Herosy wrote in her complaint.
Over the next several months, several employees came forward to corroborate accusations, including a woman who claimed O’Rourke once bent her over a desk in the board room. During that time span, the authority was divided into two camps, with one supporting Herosy and the other backing their long time director.
O’Rourke, a 25-year veteran who is credited with helping to transform a nearly-insolvent agency into one of the highest-performing housing authorities in the country, has labeled Herosy and his other accusers as disgruntled employees. He has suggested that the internal investigation only cited him for taking long lunches with staff members, having pornographic material on his computer (but not distributing it) and making inappropriate comments to employees (he claims he “never said anything that someone wouldn't hear on prime time television).
“I believe I have been a victim of a planned, concerted effort (read smear campaign) to discredit me and my closest staff members because of petty contrived slights,” O’Rourke said in a 3,000-word prepared statement in his July due process hearing in front of the board. “The allegations made against me were serious and purposefully made public for maximum impact damaging my reputation and career and the reputation of this housing authority. These charges were not true, or were exaggerated beyond reasonableness.”
Former General Treasurer to Lead PHA
After lawyer Raymond Marcaccio issued a report from investigation to the board, the group, which is comprised of several Mayoral appointees, Council members and resident members, spent more than a month discussing whether to terminate O’Rourke with cause, without cause or to negotiate his resignation.
Removing O’Rourke with cause would likely result in a costly legal battle and doing so without cause would come with a hefty payout that would have been significantly larger than the approximately $250,000 he is expected to receive, which is why the board agreed to negotiate a resignation settlement.
The board also voted Thursday to extend an offer to former two-term General Treasurer Paul Tavares to become the interim executive director as the agency prepares for its transition. While a contract still needs to be worked out, Tavares, who in the past served as head of the East Providence Housing Authority, would become the fourth director the organization has had since the beginning of the year. The others have included O’Rourke, Sorrel Devine and Ryan, who was ineligible to serve as both chairman of the board and interim director
The numerous transitions and lack of communications from the board led nine members of Local 1,217, the union which represents a significant chunk of housing authority employees, to attend Thursday’s meeting.
The union’s business manager, Joe Murphy, said that while he has no problem with Tavares being selected for the post, he doesn’t understand why O’Rourke is leaving. Murphy said his members have been working without a contract since the beginning of July and criticized the board for its inability to bring closure to situation.
“There is no leadership, there is no direction,” Murphy said. “They don’ tell us anything. We’re in limbo over here.”
But Bill Reilly, who was in attendance on behalf of Herosy, labeled the union members as “part of Stephen’s team.” Reilly, who happens to be Herosy’s boyfriend, has led the behind-the-scenes effort to expose O’Rourke’s behavior since Herosy went public with her complaint.
“He is purposely ignorant on the information he has,” Reilly said of Murphy.
Still, Narducci made it clear that the board has had “very long, very stressful” meetings over the past six weeks as they discussed the fate of O’Rourke. He said he believes Tavares is the right choice to serve as interim director.
“If anybody could get the Providence Housing Authority back to where it was, it’s Paul,” Narducci said.
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