A divided Housing Authority of New Orleans granted Executive Director Gregg Fortner another year on the job Tuesday, despite concerns from some members about how he would be held accountable for improvements and a lack of input from newly appointed commissioners in the decision.
The 5-3 vote came after commissioners who favored the extension argued that with Fortner’s contract having already expired, action had to be taken quickly to avoid a leadership vacuum at the agency.
Board President Alice Riener pledged that Fortner would submit quarterly reports and that specific goals would be spelled out — with all members’ input — at a board retreat this fall.
Fortner was hired in 2014 as the agency transitioned back to local control after a dozen years under the direct control of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. His contract called for a salary of $200,000.
His initial two-year contract was extended last year, and that extension expired early in July.
HANO’s board has been considering Fortner’s contract since May. Riener said that future evaluations would leave more lead time so that “if the board’s pleasure is not to extend the contract, we’ve provided enough time to start a search process to find a replacement so there’s no gap in leadership and there can be a thoughtful transition process at that point.”
Board Vice President Andreanecia Morris, who has been critical of Fortner over issues including a “substandard” rating the agency received this spring, called for the contract extension to include specific benchmarks the commissioners had previously set.
Fortner suggested those be added as an addendum to the contract, though Morris ended up voting against the contract extension.
The two other no votes came from two of the four commissioners attending their first board meeting since being appointed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell. They said they would have preferred more time to consider the issue.
“I wouldn’t want to see the seat vacant, but professionally if you knew the contract was going to expire you should have been preparing for that ahead of time,” Commissioner Sharon Jasper said. “That’s professional. People’s lives are involved in these decisions.”
Community and housing advocates also called for more transparency in the decision-making process and more accountability for Fortner going forward.
“I’m seeing ... too many people suffering, and it has a lot to do with the leadership of this organization,” Kim Ford said.
Lisha Wheeler, another new commissioner, said that while she understood the concerns, there was a need to ensure there is no interruption in the agency’s leadership.
“I hear you. A year is a long time in terms of a lot of things can happen, but if we couldn’t get a leader in here in time, it would be worse,” Wheeler said. “We couldn’t get a leader in here in time to address the issues that are important to you.”