In his first meeting as executive director of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Gregg Fortner demonstrated Tuesday that he is prepared to tackle thorny issues in the name of creating a more transparent operation.
HANO’s brand-new board authorized Fortner to develop and implement procedures to govern the financial transactions and procurement practices of the agency’s little-known nonprofit subsidiary, which recently was revealed to have been used by HANO’s former director to skirt public bid laws.
The New Orleans Advocate reported this month that federal contractor David Gilmore, who served as HANO’s executive director and one-man board for five years ending in April, made a practice of authorizing professional-services contracts through the Crescent Affordable Housing Corp. to companies, some with ties to his private consulting firm. The arrangement allowed HANO to circumvent state and federal public bid and procurement laws.
“The reason we brought this item, of course, is because of the media coverage that it has had over the past few weeks,” Fortner said. “We wanted to make sure that we got in line with the articles of incorporation for CAHC, get back to its original purpose and make sure that there are procurement policies and financial transactions more in line with HANO’s procurement and financial policies.”
The resolution authorizes Fortner to develop and implement a procurement policy, accounts-payable policies and procedures and a consulting and shared-services agreement between HANO and CAHC.
Records obtained by The New Orleans Advocate showed that CAHC wrote checks and completed wire transfers totaling nearly $1 million to five companies between 2012 and 2013 without first soliciting bids for the work.
The move toward the policy change was the first significant action for Fortner, who took over as HANO’s executive director July 7. He is the agency’s first director since it emerged from 12 years under federal receivership. Tuesday’s meeting was not only his first but the first of a newly appointed board of commissioners.
Fortner said in a recent interview that building public trust in the agency is a paramount concern for him. There were hints of that mission Tuesday. The agency’s board meetings, for instance, have been rescheduled to evenings with the idea that more people will be able to attend. In the same vein, meetings also will now be held at the various sites HANO oversees, instead of exclusively at HANO headquarters.
Those matters aside, much of Tuesday’s meeting consisted of the sort of housekeeping tasks all new public bodies must tend to. The board elected Dwayne Bernal as its chairman, Alice Riener as vice chairwoman and Fortner as secretary/treasurer. The latter appointment is included in HANO’s bylaws. The board also confirmed Fortner as the agency’s contracting officer and added him as a signatory on HANO’s financial accounts.
The board established an ad hoc finance committee that will have the immediate task of reviewing the budget Fortner plans to present at the next meeting. Other committees will likely be established at that meeting.
In addition to Bernal and Riener, the board includes Glen Pilié, Toni Hackett Antrum and Vonda Rice. Rice, along with two additional board members whose names have not been released because they haven’t been cleared by the state Board of Ethics, were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.