Bid to oust Hempstead housing board chief

The Village of Hempstead. The Village of Hempstead. Photo Credit: J.C. Cherubini, 2011

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Newly appointed board members of the troubled Hempstead Village Housing Authority and the village mayor tried to overthrow the authority's chairman during a contentious board meeting last week.

Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr., who appoints five board members -- two others are elected by residents -- said Friday that he picked local real estate lawyer Carlos Beltran as chairman Gilford Finch's replacement. Hall said Finch, who was elected chairman by the old board in April, was appointed in September 2010 to replace a commissioner whose term expired in April 2011.

"All along I wanted for Gil to resign and he wouldn't resign," Hall said in an interview. "We did the research and we found out he was never appointed past April 7, 2011. Being a holdover, I had the right to pick someone to replace him and that's what I did."

Finch disputed Hall's claim, saying he was appointed for a five-year term that ends in September 2015. Housing authority attorney Charlene Thompson argued during Thursday's meeting that proper protocol to notify the housing authority of a new commissioner was not followed, so any change was not valid.

"We have to explore this and find out what's what," Finch said Friday, adding that he does not intend to step down. "I believe I am doing good work. Why should I roll over and disappear?"

The beleaguered agency is the subject of federal administrative and criminal investigations into its finances, and remains without an executive director.

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"HUD has already put us on notice that if we don't get our house in order they are coming in and taking over," Thompson said, as residents applauded.

The U.S. Department of Health and Urban Development designated the authority as "troubled" and has been monitoring its management. Investigators from HUD's Office of the Inspector General visited the authority in April seeking financial records, housing officials have said. The authority oversees four public housing complexes with 281 units.

After HUD's visit, Hall appointed Marcia Turner, Andrena Wyatt and Max Rodriguez as commissioners, and kept an older appointee, Rodney Morrow.

Beltran is slated to replace Finch.

"He is no longer the chairman," Wyatt said of Finch at the Thursday meeting, adding she was voted in, 4-3, as the new chairwoman. "He has been replaced."

Thompson and Finch shouted in response, "You are out of order."

State law says a mayor can remove an authority board member for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or misconduct" only after giving the member a copy of the charges and an opportunity for a public hearing, HUD officials said.

"I'm appalled and utterly disgusted with this board," said resident Deborah Moorer, who has lived in Totten Towers for 12 years. She said she is afraid she will be homeless due to the authority's missteps. "We're talking about thousands of dollars missing. This is our money."

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Moorer was among 25 residents at the meeting who complained about finances, poor building maintenance and security, and parking lot flooding.

"There is a problem here in Hempstead. You have money missing. You have bills not being paid," said Eric T. Wingate, the Glen Cove Housing Authority executive director who lives in Hempstead and is acting as a volunteer private investigator for Finch. "The result of this is that people are going to jail."

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