OCEAN CITY — For more than a year, the Ocean City Housing Authority has refused to repay the city the $1.2 million it advanced for the repair of Sandy damages to Pecks Beach Village, a HUD-subsidized development.
For most of that time, Ed Price and Jay Gillian have been portrayed as the faces of the two opposing sides. Price is the chair of OCHA. Gillian is mayor of Ocean City. Next week, depending upon the outcome of the city’s May 13 municipal election, Price could be mayor-elect of this seaside resort. And he could still be chair of OCHA.
“It is a possibility,” said Linda MacIntyre, the city clerk. “You never know.”
According to New Jersey statute 40A:12A-17d, Creation of Housing Authority: “No more than one member of a housing authority may be an officer or employee of the municipality or county by which the authority is created.”
Lisa Ryan, director of strategic communications, said Monday the Department of Community Affairs would not offer an opinion on the matter unless a complaint was filed with the Local Finance Board, which investigates matters under the Local Government Ethics Law.
“I don't know the answer to the question without doing research,” said Charles Gabage, of Eisenstat, Gabage & Furman in Vineland. Gabage serves as solicitor to OCHA. “It would require some thought and research, and reaching out to others."
Five of the board’s seven members are appointed by City Council, one by the mayor and one by the state. Price, who was appointed by council in September 2011 to fill an unexpired term, can serve until Dec. 31, 2015.
Alesia Watson, the executive director of OCHA, has a shorter timeline in mind for Price should he be elected. “If Ed becomes mayor,” she said, “he will not be able to serve for obvious reasons."
“Have I given it any thought?” Price asked of whether he would resign from OCHA if elected mayor. “Yes. Have I decided what I’m going to do? No.”
He said snap decisions are one of the biggest problems in the city and that he would not contribute by rushing to judgment. Instead, he said, he would take the time between the election and the day he was sworn into office in July to examine the issue.
Should he hold both positions, it would not be unprecedented for a mayor to serve in more than one capacity, Price said, citing the example of the mayor holding an appointment to the Library Board of Trustees.
Asked if he would recuse himself on matters that involved two interests he represented, Price answered, “The idea is not to represent both. You represent only the constituents at that meeting. So if you are at a Housing Authority meeting, you represent only the Housing Authority. You do not have a dual role.”
The standoff between OCHA and the city began last year, months after the residents of Pecks Beach Village, a 60-unit, low-income housing complex in the 200 block of Fourth Street, had been returned to their homes. Ocean City used COAH funds to pay for repairs to the units with the expectation it would be repaid when OCHA received insurance proceeds for the damages.
Concerns escalated when Stephen Lalli, the vice chair of OCHA, delivered a 57-page analysis of the process and the repairs authorized by the city. In some instances, the city did not follow Housing and Urban Development guidelines in installing appliances. In March, OCHA sought HUD guidance in moving forward with repaying the city.
HUD notified OCHA last month that it would not rule on the issue as HUD funds had not been used in making the repairs to Pecks Beach Village. HUD advised the group to seek counsel from its solicitor.
Dottie McCrosson, solicitor for the city, said HUD’s lack of input had not changed the city’s position, and that payment in full from OCHA was expected.
Watson said Monday she is “most confident the board will be voting to reimburse the city” when OCHA next meets on May 20 and that the group has adequate funds from insurance proceeds to do so. She said she is waiting on a signed Shared Services Agreement between the city and the housing authority, and “the only thing that’s left to vote on is the resolution to close out the matter.”
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