By Kevin Coughlin
Four commissioners have quit the Morristown Housing Authority, which has been under federal investigation since 2015, according to authority officials.
Another seat, a gubernatorial appointment, has been vacant for about 14 months. That leaves only two commissioners remaining on the seven-seat authority. With no quorum, Monday’s monthly meeting was canceled.
Executive Director Roy Rogers said payroll and other daily operations will continue at the authority, which is funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and manages 470 apartments for seniors and families, and 184 Section 8 rental vouchers.
“I have procedures to continue operations. I will work closely with HUD,” Rogers said on Monday.
Resignations were submitted to the town last week by authority Chairwoman Marion Sally, a retired director of the MHA; and Commissioners Dorothy Holman and Vera White.
They had clashed with Rogers, who began questioning their out-of-state travel expenses soon after he was hired in early 2015. In turn, they asked how Rogers could hold his $154,000 job while continuing to serve a housing authority in Harrison.
A fourth commissioner, Donna Howard, who only was appointed to the volunteer board a few months ago, delivered her resignation to town hall on Monday. She intended to inform the housing authority back in December, she said, but none of its scheduled monthly meetings have taken place since then.
Declining to explain her decision, Howard said only: “It didn’t have anything to do with the director.”
Attempts to reach Sally, Holman and White for comment were unsuccessful.
Rogers said he had not actually seen their resignation letters, and he declined to comment about the former commissioners.
“I feel I need to be careful. It continues to be an ongoing investigation,” said Rogers, who invoked a whistle-blower protection law after initiating a HUD probe into his concerns that people may have skipped ahead on a Section 8 rental subsidy list that’s been closed since 2003.
Spokespersons for HUD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark have declined to confirm or deny an investigation.
Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, HUD’s Office of the Inspector General told MorristownGreen.com in December: “The records that you have requested are part of an on-going law enforcement investigation and cannot be released at this time.”
In late 2015, Commissioner Michael Cherello said subpoenas had been served on the MHA.
‘THANKFUL FOR THEIR SERVICE’
Mayor Tim Dougherty commended the former commissioners.
“I respect their choice, and am thankful for their many years of service,” said the Mayor, who had appointed White to the authority. “She’s been active helping people in Morristown for many, many years,” he said.
Dougherty said he is searching to appoint a successor “with an in-depth knowledge of how housing authorities work.”
The town council is soliciting applications from residents interested in filling the unexpired terms of Sally, Holman and Howard on the authority. The window to apply is 30 days, so council appointments at the earliest would come in late March, said town Clerk Kevin Harris.
Holman’s five-year term was set to expire in September. Howard was serving an unexpired term that runs through 2019. White’s term ran until September 2020, and Sally’s, until September 2021, Harris said.
Turnover and turbulence have marked Rogers’ tenure. Mary Dougherty, who is the Mayor’s wife; Frank Vitolo, the governor’s appointee; and Jeannine Crippen all stepped down as commissioners.
Things got so hot during a closed-door session in September 2015 that Vitolo –then the town’s GOP chairman– came to the rescue of Mary Dougherty–Morristown’s Democratic leader at the time–in an alleged altercation with Holman, according to a police report filed by Mary Dougherty.
Holman dismissed the reported fracas as a “bunch of lies.”
Now, the only remaining commissioners are Michael Cherello and Teresa Rodriguez, who was appointed last year.