Permanent Government insider Stanley Brezenoff to replace NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye after public outcry over lead crisis in public housing

Stanley Brezenoff previously oversaw each of the Board of Correction, an Agency that failed inmates at Rikers Island, and Long Island College Hospital, a hospital that was reportedly run into the ground

By Progress News Staff

The embattled New York City public housing authority CEO, Shola Olatoye, is resigning on Tuesday from her post, a report suggests, and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) is expected to name Stanley Brezenoff as interim CEO of the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA.

The resignation and replacement were noted in a report published by The New York Daily News. The change in leadership comes as the public await the outcome of a reported Federal investigation into the physical condition standards at NYCHA. One reported focus of the Federal investigation has zeroed in on whether the public housing authority is exposing tenants to lead. Recent reports by the Reuters news service and public radio station WNYC 93.9 FM have noted that children in some New York City neighborhoods have tested positive for elevated blood lead levels at rates that matched or exceed rates in lead water crisis-ravaged Flint, MI, and these and other reports are suggesting that only tenants of public housing are being exposed to lead, although there is no data to support that assertion.

In a failed effort to ring fence Ms. Olatoye from losing her post as a result of this lead crisis and other failures of leadership, the de Blasio administration forced Brian Clarke, a senior vice president for operations, and Jay Krantz, a director of technical services, to resign. Luis Ponce, another senior vice president, was suspended for 30 days and demoted, according to a prior report published by The New York Daily News. Two months later, The New York Daily News reported that Michael Kelly, NYCHA’s general manager, was resigning.

The New York City Department of Investigation issued a report, revealing that Ms. Olatoye and others voted to approve a false certification filed with the Federal Government about lead paint regulation compliance. Accusations were also made that Ms. Olatoye gave false testimony about tenants’ exposure, and the risks of exposure, to lead at a hearing before the New York City Council. According to press reports, Ms. Olatoye and Mayor de Blasio were aware that NYCHA was not in compliance with lead regulations, and they withheld information about these violations from NYCHA’s tenants and from the public.

Numerous requests have been made to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s southern district, the Government Agency conducting the investigation into NYCHA’s physical condition standards, but the Press Office servicing the Federal prosecutors’ office has steadfastly refused to provide any information about the investigation. At the outset of the investigation, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Yalen, Monica Folch, and Talia Kraemer made a joint filing made before the Hon. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts on 16 March 2016, seeking a Court order for NYCHA to produce municipal health records of some of its tenants, stating that there was a compelling public need for the privacy-encumbered documents to be provided to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The three Federal prosecutors wrote in their Court filing, in relevant part, that, “Production of the information is in the interest of justice.” However, the investigation reportedly became bogged down after the de Blasio administration produced over 400 million records to Federal authorities. It was unknown at the time if the Federal prosecutors’ office had the technology, skill, or human resources to review and process such a large production of records.

That the top NYCHA official was stepping down two years into the Federal investigation, though, possibly points to the work of Federal prosecutors. According to the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, an operational “cookbook” for Federal prosecutors, whenever Federal prosecutors investigate public officials, one outcome that prosecutors may seek is the resignation of officials, who are charged with Federal crimes. “Resignation from office, withdrawal from candidacy for elective office, and forbearance from seeking or holding future public offices, remain appropriate and desirable objectives in plea negotiations with public officials who are charged with [F]ederal offenses that focus on abuse of the office(s) involved,” the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual provides in § 9-16.110. However, it is not known whether the NYCHA officials, who have been removed from office, will ever face the prospect of Federal criminal charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office district declined to answer a request for information for this report.

Officials, who had knowledge of the risks that exposure of lead posed to residents but who took no action to mitigate those risks, have faced efforts to hold officials accountable for the dangerous consequences for inaction. In the lead-contaminated water crisis that has faced residents of Flint, MI, for example, criminal charges were filed against at least three officials for decisions that contributed to the water crisis and for precautions not taken, according to a report broadcast by the CNN cable news network.

Mr. Brezenoff, Mayor de Blasio’s choice for an interim leader at NYCHA, recently over-saw the Board of Correction, an Agency of the City of New York that appeared to never comply with the terms of a settlement of a Constitutional rights violation investigation of the Rikers Island jail complex, so much so that the jail complex is now set to close. Mr. Brezenoff also drove Long Island College Hospital into closure in order to continue contracting the availability of full-service hospitals, according to Government reform activists. Mr. Brezenoff’s entitled and irresponsible approach to the administration of Government has earned him the scorn of legendary New York muckrakers, including Jack Newfield, who referred to career insiders like Mr. Brezenoff as representing the City’s unaccountable “Permanent Government.”

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