Trouble at Annapolis Housing Authority

February 02, 1993

The warning signs are all there. The Annapolis Housing Authority is headed for serious trouble again.

Suspicious bidding procedures, an ongoing federal audit, waning support from housing commission members -- these problems are casting a shadow over Executive Director Harold S. Greene.

Four years ago, Mr. Greene was hailed as a savior of Annapolis' public housing operation while his predecessor, Arthur G. Strissel Jr., went to federal prison for fraud, bid-rigging and taking bribes.

While there is no indication that the current troubles are in this league, Mr. Greene'e tendency to dismiss them as "blown out of proportion" could spell trouble. Since Strissel, Annapolis has no patience with even small infractions, much less problems as potentially damaging as these:

* A pattern of questionable contract bids. Throughout 1991, the authority received only a few bids from the same contractors -- until an independent firm was called in to review contract procedures. Sources within the authority also say acceptance of abnormally low bids is commonplace; then contractors request "change orders" raising their prices until they are close to the second-highest bid. This skews the bidding process, yet Mr. Greene has recommended approval of dozens of change orders.

* An audit of financial records by the U.S. Inspector General's Office of HUD.

* Delays in renovations at Harbour House apartments. Progress reports from Mr. Greene's office indicated that the upgrade was on track -- right up until it was announced that tenants wouldn't be able to move in as scheduled.

* Loss of support of housing commission members. J. Walter Sterling has stated publicly that he doesn't trust the current administration.

If the Strissel scandal has caused Mr. Greene to be subjected to unusual scrutiny, it also has helped him, since almost anything he did would look good by comparison.

Moreover, he has made major strides -- fixing up dilapidated apartments, reducing drug trafficking and leasing an impressive 99 percent of 1,104 public housing units.

But Mr. Greene cannot be measured against the pathetic standard of his predecessor. The issue is whether he is running the housing authority properly.

Unfortunately, the signs are not good.

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