OCEAN CITY — In a move no one saw coming, the chair, vice chair and a commissioner on the Ocean City Housing Authority board resigned Tuesday night.
The abrupt departures of Ed Price, chair; Stephen Lalli, vice chair; and Marlene Sheppard, commissioner, came moments after the board voted 4-3 to repay the city money it owed for repairs the city had authorized at Pecks Beach Village, a low-income housing complex that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.
In the 15 months since residents returned to their homes, the housing authority has refused to reimburse the city the $1.2 million it fronted for repairs to the 60-unit complex in the 200 block of Fourth Street. A lack of a shared-services agreement between the city and the authority; bills and invoices that were said to be either missing or disputed; and concerns over appliances that were installed that fell short of HUD energy recommendations were most frequently cited as the reasons the authority refused to repay the city.
Tuesday night, at a regular meeting of the board, four commissioners – Patricia Jackson, Portia Thompson, Stuart Sirott and Bill Woods – voted in favor of repaying the city close to $1 million. Immediately prior to that vote, the same four commissioners and Sheppard approved the adoption of the shared services agreement with the city.
Alesia Watson, executive director of OCHA, and Charles Gabage, attorney to the authority, both expressed great surprise at the turn of events. Neither had any inclination three of the seven board members planned to quit en masse.
“I’m sad and disappointed they’re gone,” Watson said. “I worked well with Commissioners Price, Lalli and Sheppard. They had a wealth of experience and I was so excited when I was hired that I had a board I could work with. I’m indebted to them for giving me this opportunity.”
Watson became the executive director in August 2013, well after the standoff between the housing authority and the city had started. Price became the chairperson in January 2013, six weeks after previous chair Woods had begun working with Mayor Jay Gillian’s administration to undertake repairs at Pecks Beach Village.
In a statement he distributed immediately after the hourlong meeting adjourned, Price said, “The reimbursement of monies for the Pecks Beach Village construction and the non-existence of a Shared Services Agreement prior to the construction, which was under the previous chairperson, along with potential conflicts of interest regarding the previous chairperson, and the nature of the construction performed by the city, has caused me to be unable to continue to serve on this board.”
Price’s announcement was followed by Lalli’s, which was delivered by speaker phone. Sheppard then announced she also would resign, adding, “I have enjoyed working for the residents but I have not enjoyed working with this board.” She said she was tired of being “bullied” by city and elected officials, and that “I do not feel this board can effect anything. Rather than waste my time, I’m resigning.”
The vote to repay the city was a reversal of one taken two months ago at the authority’s last regular meeting, when a motion by Jackson to repay the city was defeated 4-3. In that instance, Sirott had voted “no” along with Price, Lalli and Sheppard.
The authority voted to repay the city $973,542 of the $1.255 million spent on repairs. Of that amount, OCHA had paid $282,000. The remaining $252,000 to be recovered from FEMA will be pursued in cooperation by the city and authority.
The contentious relationship between the OCHA and the city was heightened when Price declared his intention in March to run for mayor against Gillian. Last week, in the city’s municipal election, Gillian was re-elected by a wide margin to a second term.
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