A housing agency that answers to itself
If there was a prize for arrogance, the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority board would surely take it.
No matter what anyone says or does, no matter how valid the criticisms directed at the authority and Executive Director Ed Spychalski over the last year and a half, the board of directors continues to ignore them and cater to him. Spychalski plans to retire at the end of next year, but it’s clear that he will continue to be taken care of, and that nothing will really change until then.
The numerous and now-familiar criticisms came from the public, City Council and state comptroller’s office. They started with Spychalski’s and the authority’s mishandling of a bedbug infestation at Stonequist Apartments in the winter of 2011. That led to a closer look at the authority, and revelations such as Spychalski’s excessive salary of $144,000 (higher than most housing authority directors in the nation, and much higher than those in operations of similar size), almost double the $75,000 he was hired at in 2006. In fact, a stipend, which he is no longer receiving, brought it up to $152,000 in 2011.
There was also Spychalski’s five-year, annually renewing contract, which meant he always had at least a few years remaining on it — unless the board wanted to buy him out at a cost of around half a million dollars. And nepotism and conflict of interest involving authority jobs and outside work for Spychalski family members. And questionable travel expenses claimed by Spychalski and companions, revealed in a highly critical audit by the state comptroller earlier this year.
Another board would have been chastened by all this, apologized, even resigned en masse. This one’s response was to deny there were any problems, to deny anyone had authority over it, to stonewall. Everything’s fine, we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, was the attitude, first under Chairman Dennis Brunelle and then his successor, Eric Weller.
Even when the board appeared to make concessions, they didn’t amount to much. After the comptroller’s audit, for instance, it said it would improve financial oversight, but then refused to demand reimbursement for those questionable travel expenses, as the audit recommended. After finally voting last month to give the City Council salary information it had failed to provide for 13 years (the council is supposed to review and approve authority salaries each year), the board went ahead and gave Spychalski the same excessive salary — despite warnings from the city finance commissioner to get the City Council’s approval first.
Now, with Spychalski’s retirement coming, get ready for a nice golden parachute. In fact, the board has provided him with $3,000 to hire a lawyer for the negotiations.
Combine arrogance with defiance and you’ve got trouble: an agency that thinks it must answer only to itself. And, thanks to a reluctance on the part of Mayor Scott Johnson and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to get involved, it appears to be right.