Baltimore deputy housing chief was suspended from Miss. post

November 13, 1993|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

The newly hired deputy director of the Baltimore Housing Authority was suspended from his job as head of the Meridian, Miss., Housing Authority after he used a photocopy of the mayor's signature with a federal grant application.

Eric Brown, 41, stepped down from the Mississippi post last month to become deputy to Daniel P. Henson III, the executive director of the city Housing Authority.

In April, federal housing officials suspended Mr. Brown for one year without pay after he submitted a 1993 grant application that included the photocopied and unauthorized signature of then Meridian Mayor James Kemp from a 1992 application, according to Sandra Freeman, manager of the Mississippi regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Kemp had declined to sign the application.

Mr. Brown's suspension was reduced to three months after an appeal and an expression of remorse, according to HUD documents.

In addition, a Sept. 30 management review by the HUD Jackson field office harshly criticized Mr. Brown's administration and gave it a "less than satisfactory" rating. The review cited 30 problems, including improper administration of its system for awarding competitive-bid contracts, problems with its travel policy and questions about the use of Drug Elimination Grant money.

Mr. Brown's employment record also includes a stint in Birmingham, Ala., where he was fired in 1988 for unexplained reasons.

Efforts to reach Mr. Brown were unsuccessful.

Mr. Henson said last night that he was aware of Mr. Brown's problems in Alabama and Mississippi and suggested that they resulted from racism because Mr. Brown is African-American.

"Have you ever been to Meridian or Jackson?" Mr. Henson said. "It's a different world. I've spent a lot of time in Jackson, Miss., and the politics of Jackson and Meridian are different than they are in Baltimore."

Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said that the mayor also was aware of Mr. Brown's problems but supported the appointment.

"The mayor is aware of the dispute that this man had with HUD and the former mayor of Meridian over the quality of life of public housing residents there," Mr. Coleman said. "But he was assured that this in no way reflects on his integrity."

At least two members of the committee formed to select a deputy director said that they were not told about Mr. Brown's problems. They learned about them from a reporter.

"Jesus, wow. Get out of here. We never heard any of this. I wonder if Dan Henson knows about this," said Devon Wilford, a public housing resident who served on the selection committee.

Another tenant on the committee was also surprised to learn of Mr. Brown's troubles, but said she supported him during the selection process because he expressed a desire to become a tenant advocate.

"I was not aware of that [Mr. Brown's problems]," said Goldie Baker. "As far as I was concerned, the answers to his questions about his rapport with residents was positive."

Reginald Thomas, chairman of the Housing Authority board of commissioners who headed the search committee, did not return a phone call for comment on Mr. Brown's selection.

Another committee member and Housing Authority commissioner, Cleoda Walker, declined to comment.

Mr. Brown resigned as executive director in Meridian on Oct. 21, saying he had a job offer from Baltimore's Housing Authority.

Mr. Kemp, the former mayor of Meridian, said he raised questions about the 1993 application Mr. Brown wanted him to sign. Mr. Kemp said he refused to sign the document because his questions were unresolved and told Mr. Brown that he would not sign it until he had "done everything in accordance with federal agreements."

Mr. Brown was suspended from mid-April to July 2 for submitting the application with Mr. Kemp's photocopied signature from the 1992 application, Ms. Freeman said.

Mr. Henson further defended Mr. Brown last night, saying, "If he had problems with the HUD office in Mississippi, I don't hold that against him.

"I've had problems with the HUD office here," Mr. Henson said. "We have determined that, yes, Mr. Brown has had some controversial stages. But I found you won't find anybody who has not had problems with HUD or political entities."

Mr. Henson refused to comment on Mr. Brown's hiring when a reporter questioned him about it on Thursday.

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