ATLANTIC CITY — A commission overseeing the Atlantic City Housing Authority has placed the authority’s executive director on paid administrative leave, officials confirmed Tuesday. Richard Fox is the authority’s sixth executive director in five years.
Fox, hired by the authority less than seven months ago, was removed during a closed-session meeting among commission members Monday afternoon, commission Chairman Warren Massey said. Massey declined to discuss the reason or the process for determining Fox’s future with the authority.
“Let’s just say the process has not been completed yet,” Massey said. “I don’t want to enter into a zone that could create a legal problem with the housing authority.”
Fox came to the authority in September 2009. He had left a job running the housing authority in Stamford, Conn., at the start of 2009. Fox had worked as a consultant before being hired in Atlantic City. He has a one-year contract with the city.
Commissioner Joel Pierre Clarke said he was the lone vote against suspending Fox, saying he wanted to hear from the director instead of being relayed allegations. He would not detail those allegations.
In February, the Atlantic City Housing Authority Commission voted unanimously to hire an attorney to advise the board on an ongoing personnel investigation. However, officials have repeatedly declined to discuss the nature of that probe and would not say Tuesday whether it is related to Fox.
Federal officials have cited the constant changes at the helm as a cause for continued problems at the authority. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in May 2009 specifically noted the frequent changes in the executive director’s seat and also noted that the agency was operating under its fifth chief financial officer since 2000.
The commission removed Executive Director Dennis Ricci in May 2009 after refusing to renew his contract and placing him on paid leave in the final months of his employment agreement. Ricci’s exit followed months of disagreements between the director and Massey, but was never explained, because of “legal issues.”
Ricci recently filed a lawsuit against the authority accusing the commission of racism, retaliation and political motivations.
Fox, who earns $120,000 annually as director, did not return calls seeking comment. His removal adds to a list of short tenures by recent authority directors.
Auditors praised former Executive Director James Griffin, but quarrels with commission members prompted his voluntary exit in April 2006. His replacement, Alesia Humphrey, spent less than a month at the helm before she stepped down after The Press of Atlantic City exposed her history of theft convictions.
James Gannone filled the spot temporarily in July 2006 until being officially replaced by Ricci the following year. By 2007, the authority had been under heavy oversight by the federal government, which required HUD to approve all actions dealing with federal funds. The restrictions were lifted less than six months after Ricci’s arrival.
But the commission removed Ricci in May and tapped Assistant Executive Director Jelani Garrett as acting director.
Massey said if the turnover results in finding the right director to turn around the agency, that is all that matters.
“The turnovers in the housing authority are, in my opinion, something that is desperately needed until such time as you are able to identify someone who is ready to reform the housing authority,” Massey said. “It has been my intention to take on the task to begin reforming this housing authority and ridding it of a culture that has plagued it.”
Massey said the authority is again being managed by Garrett until an interim replacement can be found. But the chairman refused to refer to Garrett as “acting executive director,” a role that might require a temporary boost in salary.
Garrett initially complained when he replaced Ricci that he was not receiving additional pay for additional work. Massey declined to discuss Garret’s wages on Tuesday. Garrett also wished to reserve comment.
Contact Michael Clark: