The Obama administration, having grown weary of the excessive pay given to some public housing authority directors -- and noting Atlanta as an extreme example -- is calling for a salary cap.
In 2010, while the economy was sagging and the housing market continued to dip, Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Renee Glover took home $644,000 in total compensation, which a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed to be the highest in the country.
HUD is calling for a $155,000 salary cap on housing authority officials nationwide.
The planned cap would apply to the amount of salary paid by the federal government and would not require congressional action to implement. It’s not known how much of Glover’s salary is paid with federal dollars, but around 80 percent of the AHA’s $250 million budget comes from federal dollars.
Dan Halpern, chairman of the AHA board, said Tuesday the agency hasn't determined yet where the rest of Glover's compensation will come from if the federal cap is put in place.
Glover, who has led the AHA since 1994, said her 2010 compensation, cited in the report by federal officials, is misleading.
She said the $644,214 payment was a one-time accumulation of back pay, bonuses and benefits and that her salary in 2010 was actually $312,000. In 2011, that base salary jumped to $325,000, which is still more than twice as much as what the White House is suggesting.
“Given the total compensation for calendar year 2010 largely represents deferred payments for earned compensation, it is misleading and erroneous to suggest $644,000 is an accurate representation of my annual salary,” said Glover, adding that she clarified her compensation with senior HUD officials.
She said in 2010 she made a base salary of $312,000, which included a raise in July. Additionally, she earned a one-time payment of $126,000, which represented 12 years of accrued and unused earned vacation since 1998; two years of performance bonuses totaling $135,000 that covered the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years; a one-time payment of $11,250 representing the value of paid holidays during the year granted to all employees; and a one-time payment of $4,100 incentive for nonuse of sick leave.
She did not get any bonuses in 2011.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has had issues with the AHA’s spending since he came into office in 2009 and the Obama administration's move strengthens his argument.
It is unclear when the administration plans to implement the cap, but Reed spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs said the proposal “made sense.” She added that the city was willing to work with federal officials to address concerns about Atlanta’s compensation.
She noted that shortly after Reed was elected, he focused his attention on AHA by revamping its board in an effort to tighten up its governance.
"In these challenging economic times, as many Atlantans continue to struggle with foreclosures and a lack of adequate affordable housing, the compensation cap on the salaries of public housing officials makes fiscal sense," Jacobs said.
When Glover came to AHA it was one of the worst authorities in the nation, but she soon became a national star in public housing circles. She tore down all of Atlanta public housing complexes and replaced them with mixed-income neighborhoods through HUD’s HOPE VI program.
Federal officials praised her and pointed to Atlanta as a model as Glover also increased the use of Section 8 vouchers, which allowed former public housing residents to live in subsidized apartments. But critics charged Glover systematically tried to displace Atlanta's poor.
Over the years, Glover’s star seemed to fade. When Reed came into office he appointed a new board headed by Halpern, which quickly slashed the lucrative contract with an outside public relations firm that was handling Glover's media.
Glover's salary from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, was $300,000. On July 1, 2010, the Atlanta Housing Authority Board -– before it was revamped by Reed -- approved a new five-year employment contract, her fifth, which included an annual salary of $325,000.
Reed is opposed to giving employment contracts to city workers and nobody in his cabinet has one.
Last October Glover issued a statement announcing her imminent departure from AHA. At a board meeting that month Halpern proposed hiring an attorney to assist the board in negotiating an exit for Glover. But nothing ever came of the proposal.
“There was conversation a year ago, but there was never a formal decision made," Halpern said. “A final resolution was never made."
Rick White, a spokesman for Glover, said she now plans to honor her contract.
Halpern said that Glover "has done a lot of wonderful things for AHA, but her salary concerns me and others. We should be evaluating structures and salaries and embracing austerity measures just like everyone else is.”
“Myself and several of my colleagues who came over as appointees of Mayor Reed were asked to provide robust oversight to the authority,” Halpern said. “We had concerns about the contract, the high salary and ironclad status. It is a legal document and we have to abide by it. But it gave us some concern.”