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Editorial: HUD action on Spychalski salary welcome

Friday, June 22, 2012
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It looks as if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will finally do what the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority board wouldn’t do, and Saratoga Springs’ lawyer determined that the city couldn’t do: reduce the salary of the authority’s executive director, Edward Spychalski, effective next fiscal year. That’s good news because, at nearly $152,000 a year, not only is Spychalski’s pay excessive, there are questions about the process by which he came by it — a process that resulted in a more than doubling of his salary since he was hired in 2006.

Beyond the salary issue, though, other questions remain about Spychalski’s regime, including subsidized trips, relatives on the payroll and other apparent conflicts of interest.

Spychalski not only had the sweet salary, he had the sweetest of contracts — a five-year pact that automatically renewed each year unless the housing authority board explicitly chose not to. The renewals kept coming until a bedbug infestation at one housing authority apartment complex last winter led to closer public scrutiny, which revealed not just the $152,000 salary but the fact that none of the increases had been approved by the City Council, as required. In fact, the housing authority hadn’t submitted its salaries to the council for approval since 2000.

This spring, at the urging of Mayor Scott Johnson, the authority board refused to extend Spychalski’s contract an extra year. That was a good first step, but it still meant he could work another four years at that salary if he chose to — unless the authority bought him out at a cost of as much as $600,000.

The HUD action, which implements and tightens a salary cap of $155,500 Congress set this year for housing authority directors (after it was learned that some were making as much as $600,000 annually), would limit Spychalski’s salary to no more than $126,000. That’s the limit for executive directors responsible for between 250 and 1,249 units.

At fewer than 400, the number of units overseen by Spychalski is in the low end of that range. But a $126,000 salary for him would be well above the median salary of $75,600 for directors in that range. Indeed, it would be above the $115,600 median salary for directors of the largest authorities (those with 1,250 units on up). The housing authority board should be trying to renegotiate his salary to a more reasonable level, something else Mayor Johnson has requested.

At the same time, it should be taking a serious look at those other questions, including whether Spychalski abused his authority by hiring his daughter and promoting his son, took too many expensive trips at authority expense, improperly used authority vehicles for personal travel, and took authority vehicles for repair to his brother’s garage.

And if the authority isn’t interested, then HUD should be. There are rules against such things — and if Spychalski did break them, retroactive waivers from the authority board, which HUD seems willing to accept, shouldn’t let him off the hook.

 
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