By Maggie Lee and Maria Saporta
Gregory Johnson, the head of Cincinnati’s housing authority who had been picked to be the next CEO of Atlanta’s housing authority, changed his mind. That decision came as a total surprise to Atlanta leaders, who were not notified by Johnson that he had decided to stay in Cincinnati.
It is highly unusual for someone who has accepted a job taking him to a bigger market with a bump in pay to back out with no explanation to the people who had hired him for the new position.
“Atlanta Housing learned through media reports Thursday that Gregory Johnson, selected by the AH Board of Commissioners to serve as the next CEO, rescinded his resignation in Cincinnati,” said Atlanta Housing board Chairman Christopher Edwards in a written statement on Thursday.
That means the Atlanta’s housing authority will remain without a permanent leader bringing more uncertainty to an agency that has had give CEOs in five years.
“Fortunately, AH will continue to benefit from the stable and experienced leadership of Joy Fitzgerald as we conduct a new search for a permanent CEO.”
Fitzgerald previously spent about a dozen years at the agency, eventually becoming its interim leader, then its president and CEO for about a year before retiring in 2016.
Atlanta Housing spent the better part of the last year with an interim leader – Brandon Riddick-Seals – while it searched for a permanent CEO.
Late last month, AH’s board voted to extend an offer to Johnson after a roughly 10-month search that started with 100 prospects and was narrowed down to four finalists with the help of the Goodwin Group search firm. Riddick-Seals, a former AH board member, left the agency after Johnson was selected to run the Atlanta authority.
Johnson, in a statement released Thursday afternoon, did not provide much insight about why he had changed his mind and why he had not notified anyone in Atlanta before they read about it in the press.
“I’m flattered that the Atlanta Housing Authority considered me for such a prestigious position in a community that is also prestigious,” Johnson wrote in an email sent by a spokeswoman. “After consulting with my family, I decided staying in Cincinnati, another distinguished community, is the best decision.”
Johnson had previously announced his resignation from the Cincinnati housing authority and his intent to move to Atlanta. According to Cincinnati Business Courier, Johnson rescinded his resignation saying he had decided to stay put in Cincinnati for the foreseeable future.
The surprising reversal puts Atlanta Housing in a tricky spot as it is now in the spotlight as the city tries to address a growing crisis in a lack of affordable housing. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has made the issue a top priority of her administration.
The city was asked Thursday afternoon about Johnson’s decision to not come to Atlanta and about the city’s next steps. It had not responded to an email as of press time.
The city of Atlanta and Atlanta Housing could go a couple of different ways. The authority could decide to offer the position to one of the other three finalists, who were all considered to be qualified candidates. Or the authority could decide to start a totally new search – a process that could take several months.
When Atlanta Housing announced it had hired Johnson, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was enthusiastic.
In March, she said that Johnson’s “full background” — from growing up in the housing projects to running the Dayton and Cincinnati housing authorities — were key to his candidacy.
“He understands it from a personal and professional perspective and he came very highly recommended,” she said. “He brings personal and professional experience that we need in a leader. We have been in transition with the housing authority throughout my term. I’m very grateful Brandon stepped in as interim. It’s just about us continuing to push forward in getting us 20,000 affordable housing units and $1 billion in funding. I don’t think we can get close to that without working in tandem with the housing authority.”
At the time, Bottoms also was asked whether she was planning to replace members of Atlanta Housing’s board – most of whom had been named by former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
“It’s impossible to assess what the board has been able to achieve without having permanent leadership there,” she said.