By David Pendered
Any niceties that ever existed between Atlanta’s public housing chief and Mayor Kasim Reed’s strongest appointee to the housing board evaporated Wednesday.
The two sparred over just two aspects of the housing agency’s budget – the use of outside lawyers and a communications firm. But the real issue was an open challenge to Renee Glover’s ability to lead the Atlanta Housing Authority, as she has since 1994.
At stake in this contest are the homes and future living conditions for about 50,000 residents in some 20,000 households. Plus, there is a myriad of contracts to be awarded and paid through an annual operating budget of just over $256 million.
Here’s a taste of the conversation:
“You constantly try to manage us,” housing Commissioner Daniel Halpern told Glover. “There’s no collaboration. I’m trying to be as polite as I can. It’s disingenuous and I’m tired of it.”
At another point, Glover responded to Halpern:
“Give us leeway to the July meeting. We could provide greater detail with more itemized spending, so we don’t throw ourselves into chaos.”
Halpern carried the day in the adoption of a $256 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The new budget includes the cut Halpern wanted.
Halpern had the votes to reduce the communications budget from $750,000 a year to no more than $84,000 a year. He had no immediate recommendations for redirecting the money and later said the money could go to the reserve fund.
Programs that Glover said will be affected by the cut of almost 90 percent will include academic roundtables where housing policies are discussed; website management; annual reports for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the public; internal communications; crisis management and media affairs.
Halpern also had called for about a 90 percent cut in payments to lawyers who work under contract to AHA to about $180,000 a year from just over $2 million a year. Halpern agreed to postpone that request until further talks can happen in August.
In a sense, the sparring involved two national figures who appear to be dancing around the idea of who will control the Atlanta Housing Authority – City Hall, or Glover and a board of mayoral appointees that for nearly 20 years has been somewhat insulated from City Hall.
Glover has a reputation in the national realm of public housing as a reformer who demolished ghettos and built mixed income communities. She is a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Halpern served on President Obama’s National Finance Committee and now is a Georgia representative to the Democratic National Committee. He is known as a successful entrepreneur in the food service industry who grew the business from subsidized contracts in airports to the street. He was co-chair of Reed’s 2009 campaign.
Both can claim former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson as their reason to be at AHA.
Jackson appointed Glover to the AHA board and convinced her to take over as president and CEO after a previous leader had proved to be a disaster.
Jackson and Halpern opened Jackmont Hospitality after Jackson left the mayor’s office. Jackson made a run for the DNC chairman in 2001, but lost to Terry McAuliffe – who was backed by Bill and Hillary Clinton.