Morristown housing authority ousts whistle-blowing director

Executive Director Roy Rogers, MHA Attorney Joseph Manfredi and Commissioner Marion Sally at MHA meeting, Jan. 7, 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Former Executive Director Roy Rogers, MHA Attorney Joseph Manfredi and former Commissioner Marion Sally at MHA meeting, Jan. 7, 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Roy Rogers, who initiated a federal investigation into practices at the Morristown Housing Authority soon after he was hired in 2015, has been ousted as executive director.

Spotty attendance and concerns about day-to-day operations prompted the dismissal, approved this week by a 4-1 vote of the authority’s commissioners, said Chairperson Maureen Denman.

“It’s time to bring public housing up to par with what else is happening in town. We owe it to the residents,” Denman said.

Rogers did not return calls seeking comment on Thursday.

The Morristown Housing Authority manages 470 public housing apartments and 184 Section 8 rental vouchers.  Within months of Rogers’ hiring, he went to federal authorities with concerns about whether people had bypassed a list, closed since 2003, to obtain federal Section 8 assistance.

A grand jury subpoenaed numerous documents from the MHA, and persons familiar with the housing authority were interviewed by investigators from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Rogers also questioned official travel by some commissioners, who quit their unpaid positions in February. The board went months without meeting, for lack of a quorum.

New MHA Chairperson Maureen Denman and MHA Attorney Joe Manfredi scrutinize meeting agenda, April 24 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
New MHA Chairperson Maureen Denman and MHA Attorney Joe Manfredi scrutinize meeting agenda, April 24 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Previously, others stepped down from a situation that had grown tense — and even hazardous. One commissioner tried to take a swing at another during a heated closed session in October 2015, according to a complaint filed with police.

In January 2016, Rogers brought a personal lawyer to a housing authority meeting to invoke job protection for himself as a whistle-blower and witness in the federal probe.

His lawyer at that meeting, Louis Zayas, did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday.

Rogers unsuccessfully sued the Gloucester Township Housing Authority over his 2013 dismissal. He alleged he was terminated there for opposing political interference by local officials; the board cited performance issues.

FEDERAL PROBE ‘NO BEARING WHATSEOVER’

Denman, appointed as a commissioner by the Morristown council this spring, said she believes the federal investigation is ongoing but she has little knowledge of it, and it did not factor in removing Rogers from his $160,000 job.

“It has no bearing on us whatsoever,” she said.

Rogers has missed 77 days of work this year, Denman said. Medical reasons were cited, but the executive director failed to comply with her April request to document his absences for the commissioners, Denman said.

Douglas Priester, an MHA employee since 1993, has been serving as acting director during Rogers’ prolonged absence.

Four months of severance pay has been offered to Rogers, whose employment contract expired earlier this year, Denman said. Such offers are standard in these situations, she said.

Denman and fellow commissioners Michael Schmidt, Angel Vega and Miriam Banks — all recent appointments —  voted to terminate the executive director, who was hired in April 2015.

Michael Cherello, the only commissioner who remains from the turbulent period when Rogers raised his concerns with federal authorities, cast the lone dissenting vote.  He did not return a call seeking comment.

Among issues troubling the new commissioners, Denman said, are a leaky roof and faulty heating and air conditioning that have rendered a residents center unusable at the Manahan Village public housing complex.

One frustrated resident placed eight work orders over three years trying to get a broken door handle fixed, Denman said.

A cost-saving move to transfer landscaping from a contractor to housing authority staff has not worked well, either, according to Hiliari Davis, the town council liaison to the housing authority.

“It’s a really nice complex, and it should be taken care of better,” Davis said. “I’m hoping we can move in a good direction that serves the people here.”

Rogers’ successful initiatives included securing a $250,000 grant to install security cameras at Manahan Village.

The director vacancy is being advertised in a national trade publication. Denman and Schmidt will screen applicants and present finalists to the full board, Denman said.

Rogers was informed of his termination during a closed session with commissioners earlier this week.

“It was very amicable,” Denman said. “We all shook hands and wished him well.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that no severance package was offered.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Just goes to show the Democrats are ill prepared to run anything pertaining to Social handouts/votes. Good luck in not existing as a party in 2018

  2. You are worried about a leaky roof? How about you tell the people in the neighborhood to pick up after themselves. There is trash everywhere including empty drug baggies and blunt wrappers. Davis is so full of herself.

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