HUD investigating GHA complaint

Federal agency wants answers to employee allegations

GLOVERSVILLE — The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Buffalo field office is investigating allegations by Gloversville Housing Authority employees who allege they were told to do work at the GHA chairman’s house and for a nonprofit controlled by GHA Executive Director Tim Mattice.

HUD officials confirmed Tuesday that the GHA board has been asked in an email sent by Lisa Pugliese, the director of the HUD Buffalo Office of Public Housing, to formally respond to HUD’s inquiry of two allegations made in a letter of complaint signed by nine GHA employees Dec. 29.

The allegations are:

∫ Mattice instructed GHA employees to do work for a private nonprofit company co-founded by Mattice — the Gloversville Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Corp. — while working on GHA time;

∫ Mattice ordered the GHA maintenance department to work on GHA Board Chairman Anthony Ferraro’s house in order to upgrade it so that Mattice’s brother, who was not named in the letter, could stay at Ferraro’s house and receive a job at the GHA.

The letter also alleged Mattice has created a hostile work environment at the authority, but Pugliese’s email does not mention that allegation.

Pugliese has oversight over the GHA. The Leader-Herald has obtained a copy of another email from Pugliese to the GHA board asking them to explain why Mattice’s brother may have been hired by the GHA. Pugliese states in the email that the hiring of Mattice’s brother, if it occurred, would be against the law unless the GHA board had legal cause to waive the prohibition against the hiring of an authority’s executive director’s immediate family member.

“If the board has waived such, we would request legal opinion from the HA attorney as to how it is permitted by state and local law. We are requesting the board to provide a response to this office in writing on the HA letterhead within 15 business days on the status of such allegation,” wrote Pugliese.

The Gloversville Housing Authority has been embroiled in controversy since the complaint letter, signed by nine of the 11 housing authority employees, was publicized Jan. 3.

On Jan. 4, four of the nine employees who signed the letter — Tina Sena, Linda Lizio and Janet Luck, and maintenance worker Joe Battaglia — were placed on unpaid leave.

In the letter, the employees allege they were asked to order supplies for the nonprofit Gloversville Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Corp., work on files for GHNIC and that Mattice used Gloversville Housing Authority “funds, as well as labor, to benefit his other company.”

GHNIC Chairman Vince DeSantis, who co-founded the organization with Mattice in 2013, has stated Mattice resigned as executive director of the GHNIC in December, effective Jan. 1. In an interview with the Leader-Herald, DeSantis said the purpose of GHNIC is to administer state grants, approximately $500,000 worth over the past two years, for the purpose of home repair and improvement for income-qualified residents of Gloversville. DeSantis said it was Mattice’s role in GHNIC to write grant proposals for the organization and to administer the grants, which DeSantis said he did as an unpaid volunteer.

The GHA board of directors has retained the Gloversville law firm Wood, Seward & McGuire to represent them with respect to the controversy. GHA attorney Ben McGuire said it is the position of the GHA that it was not improper for the housing authority to have a business relationship with the GHNIC, which may have included some services being provided by the authority to GHNIC.

“It’s my understanding that any work that was done would have been minimal in nature and it would have been work that was designed to benefit the housing authority in the overall,” McGuire said. “It’s my understand that this was a perfectly acceptable practice under housing authority [regulations] for a housing authority to do this. If there was any paperwork [done], it would have been very ministerial in nature — the filling out of a grant application. It would not have been extensive work, and I don’t think it would have been done by all of the employees that signed the letter; it would have only been a select one or two that may have even done work. I think, in the end, it was a joint venture essentially in working out affordable housing projects.”

McGuire said HUD encourages housing authorities to have business relationships with not-for-profits that further the goal of providing affordable housing for the public. He said the GHA board emphatically denies any wrongdoing with respect to GHA workers doing work at Ferraro’s house.

Minutes from the GHA board of directors meeting in September indicate Ferraro admitted to having had GHA workers help him with a plumbing problem at his property, but according to the minutes, he said it was a one-time incident and that the employees were helping him on their own time.

A HUD official said Tuesday that HUD regulations do allow business relationships between local housing authorities and not-for-profit entities like the GHNIC. The official said those relationships can include fee-for-service arrangements as well as the sharing of housing authority labor without a fee under some circumstances. The official said the legality of the relationship between the GHA and the GHNIC has not yet been determined, but will be under review during the course of HUD’s investigation into the allegations.

GHA employees are subject to New York state civil service law. The four suspended employees have appealed their suspensions to to Fulton County Director of Civil Service Terry Sousa.