Who is Elisa Singer?

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Elisa Singer 2Who is Elisa Singer?

Elisa Singer owns and operates T-square Design Consultants, a store design studio in New Rochelle which lists prestigious clients like Georgio Armani and Ralph Lauren. She has lived in New Rochelle since 1995 with her husband and business partner Thomas Cohen, and her two children. Here bio is here and her 2001 resume here.

According to the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority (NRMHA) web site, Elisa Singer has served as Chairman of the Board of the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority since June 2009. She was first appointed as an NRMHA Commissioner in 2001. Her current term expires March 31, 2017.

Under her watch as Chairperson, the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority, has been and remains the least transparent government agency in New Rochelle, failing to adhere to the New York State Freedom of Information Law and running public meetings as if the 2012 update to New York State's Open Meeting Law sponsored by Assemblymember Amy Paulin had never happened.

In January 2012, Governor Cuomo signed into law requirements that state and local agencies leverage their web sites to provide all resolutions and documents to be discussed at public meetings online.

The NRMHA web site acknowledges its obligations to follow the Open Meeting Law, describing itself as "a public governmental agency established under New York State law. The operations of the Housing Authority are subject to all applicable state laws, including the Open Meetings Act, and state procurement requirements".

On June 9, 2014 Singer was re-elected for another term as Chairperson at a meeting that was not announced on the NRMHA web site and held in a tiny conference room hidden away in the bowels of the NRMHA offices at 50 Sickles Avenue, behind a series of locked security doors. No signs indicated a meeting was taking place, when or where. No meeting agendas were available on the web site or placed in public view.

Were anyone to find out about the meeting -- and I only found out because I happened to have called for purposes of this article hours before the June 9th meeting -- they would have had a devil of time gaining access. The doors to 50 Sickles, a large apartment building with NRMHA offices on the first floor, are locked with buzzer-only access. The buzzer rings a front desk that is unmanned with shades drawn down, after 5 p.m., the scheduled meeting time. The front desk is not visible from the lobby of 50 Sickles, but rather hidden behind a solid door with a small window. No one was present at the security desk throughout the meeting.

The NRMHA public meeting may as well have been held inside a locked bank vault. Ms. Singer and her board were about as welcoming as North Korean border guards -- except to each other as they happily gorged themselves before, during and after the meeting, on taxpayer funded snacks, sandwiches and soft drinks, apparently unwilling to fast even for a few minutes for the entire 75 minutes duration of their meeting.

I videotaped the meeting from a single camera on a tripod just to document what took place.

The day after the meeting, I shared my observations with Singer and her board, asking for responses to certain questions and the various violations of Open Meeting Law:

I have had in mind for a while to attend an NRMHA board meeting and by pure luck called yesterday and not only stumbled upon a meeting that day but the annual meeting.

My interest has to do what I have done with every other meeting in New Rochelle covered by New York State Open Meeting Law ("OML") - determine whether the board is in compliance with OML and how the board and its meetings might better comply with the letter and spirit of the law and otherwise increase public awareness of public meetings.

The law has been updated over the past few years and makes certain requirements that would apply to NRMHA, namely that if you have a web site you have to use it for OML purposes. For purposes of this email, I am going to take it that you agree you have a web site and that you have the ability to update information on the site and therefore the updated OML applies to you in this regard...

I was unable to find anything on the nrmha.org web site that served to announce yesterday’s meeting or ANY meeting ever for that matter. You need to create some sort of calendar or announcement section for meeting notices.

I was unable to see any signage that indicated where to go to find the board meeting yesterday. There should be some signs on the doors to the building and signs that lead a person to the meeting room.

The meeting room itself is a problem on multiple levels and ought to be changed.

I would recommend that your meetings be relocated to City Hall which is better equipped to handle such a meeting including video recording meetings, access to the building and the room and seating. As only two people at the meeting appeared to work in the NRMHA offices, the location of the meeting would appear to be a matter of insignificance to the vast majority of the board.

There is no public access to the meeting room. The conference room now used is closed to the public and requires going through several security doors. Not terribly welcoming to the public.

The meeting room is too small, room that might be have been set aside for seating was taken up by a table containing sandwiches, snacks, soft drinks, ice, cups, plates, napkins, etc.

You should discontinue the practice of serving food and drinks. It not only takes up space better used for seating but is also a gratuitous waste of taxpayer money, entirely unnecessary for what was a 75 minute meeting and something that will not play well in public reports of your meetings. I would also note that serving food distracts from the meeting as participants get up from the table to get food or drinks, reach for food on the main conference table, and crunch away in a manner not conducive to running a meeting.

I was told [the] meeting was scheduled to start at 5 p.m. but I was locked out of the office until 5:20 p.m. The meeting did not start until 5:30 p.m. No explanation was given. I should have been allowed to go directly to the meeting room when I arrived.

As noted above, the web site has no information at all related to past, current or future meetings. There should be some calendar page with meeting notices and links to files such as agendas or documents to be presented/discussed at the meeting. You are required to provide documents to be discussed at the meeting on the web under OML (and you ought to have hard copies on hand as well).

There were three documents that should have been available in advance to the public via the web:

1. RAD Program (.ppt) not made available online before the meeting or during the meeting.

2. PHADA Conference report by Angela Farrish was distributed and discussed by the board, copies not made available to the public, not posted to the web site.

3. Draft RFQ & Bracey Redevelopment Draft was circulated to the board but not made available to the public, not posted on the web site.

Disturbingly, the Draft RFQ & Bracey Redevelopment Draft was described as an “internal document for the board”, that it might later be circulated to stakeholders. That document is a public record once it is circulated and discussed at a public meeting. I should have been given a copy at the meeting.

I would like a copy of that document provided to me immediately as a PDF attachment via email.

The meeting agenda was not followed: topics listed in the Executive Director’s Report were simply ignored, without explanation (HUD Correspondence, HUD Recovery Plan, Vacated Tenant Arrears). Why were these skipped? Why was no reason offered?

There was no mention of the Annual Meeting in the monthly agenda and no Annual Meeting agenda. Why?

While not required under OML, there should be a much better effort to inform the public about the board. There is no information about board members on the web site including names, photographs, bios, date of appointment, length of service, lengths of terms, end of terms, there is no contact information provided for individual board members.

There is no information about elections for the two “resident” positions on the board. I gather they have happened already or are scheduled to happen soon. Can you clarify that?

That’s about it for now.

To summarize,

I would like you to circulate a copy of this email to the board, address any of the failures to follow OML evidenced yesterday, provide me a copy of the Draft RFQ & Bracey Redevelopment Draft and provide information on the “resident commissioner” elections.

Ms. Signer and her staff ignored every question and declined to address any of the numerous violations of the Open Meeting Law.

In my experience, NRMHA is the least transparent of New Rochelle's government agencies. They have what might be generously called a cavalier attitude towards New York State's Freedom of Information Law and Open Meeting Law.

What we know from the website is that NRMHA policy is set by its seven member Board of Commissioners.

What we do not know from the website is the names of those Commissioners, when they were appointed and the length of their terms.

Five of the Commissioners are appointed by the City Manager and residents of NRMHA elect two resident commissioners at large.

It is not readily apparent how the public would know who the board members are, when they meet or how to go about obtaining policy documents, agendas, minutes or any other official records. There is no information on the NRMHA web site as to how often the board meets, when they meet or where they meet.

There is no information about how to obtain public records, or the name and contact information for a Records Access Office, also required under New York State Law.

The NRMHA budget is well over $4 million and their assets include properties worth tens of millions of dollars -- 111 Lockwood Avenue, 50 Sickles Avenue, 345 Main Street, 361 Main Street and is in the process of converting properties at 51, 80, & 81 Winthrop Avenue and 60 & 70 Horton Avenue (Hartley Houses) into Heritage Homes. They receive large sums of funding from various government agencies including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. So, the money to pay for a regularly updated web site is certainly available.

Beverly Scott was identified during the meeting as a resident representative. There are supposed to be two resident representatives but no second person was identified or referenced during the meeting. It was stated that Beverly Scott was on the board for four years, that her term just ended, that this was her last meeting, that there are two commissioner-elects.

No mention was made of who they are but there were three people at the meeting who were not identified so they may be among the "unknown" persons identified in the photos below.

While Singer has failed to provide any information about NRMHA, its board and the board members, City spokesperson Kathy Gilwit provided information on those board members appointed by the City Manager -- each of whom served a 5 years term.

Dr. Edward A. Woods was first appointed in January 1998. He has served for 16 years. His current term expires March 31, 2015.

Sheila Small was appointed January 2004. She has served for 10 years. Her current term expires March 31, 2016.

Chairwoman Elisa Singer was appointed June 2001. She has served for 13 years. Her current term expires March 31, 2017.

Rev. Harry Dawkins was appointed April 2013. He has served for 1 year. His current term expires on March 31, 2018.

Rick Smith was appointed in July 1990. He has served for 24 years. His current term expires March 31, 2019.

Even including Rev. Dawkins with one year, the average term on the board for these appointed members is almost 13 years.

Gilwit provided resumes for four of the board members -- Woods, Small, Singer and Dawkins (none for Smith) most of which are significantly out of date: NRMHA Board Member Resumes.pdf

Ira Goldenberg is the counsel for the NRMHA.

Below are photos of the people at the meeting. If you know the names of the three "unknown" persons in the photographs please email me at robertcox@talkofthesound.com. If you have contact information for any of the persons pictured below please send them as well (click image to enlarge).

NRMHA PIX 455

As NRMHA is not providing contact information, I searched on Google and found bits and pieces that may or may not be current. If you have current contact information for any of these people please email me at robertcox@talkofthesound.com.

[List last updated on June 23, 2014]

Dr. Edward A. Woods
4 Country Ridge Road
Scarsdale, NY 10583
Home Phone: 914-723-5271, 914-723-0523, 914-722-4732, 914-723-8526
Work Phone: 212-755-1637
Email: N/A
DOB 8/23/34
Party Affiliation: Democrat

Sheila Small
9 The Boulevard
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Home Phone: N/A
Work Phone: 914-633-4022, 914-224-2213
Email: sesesq@aol.com
DOB 10/16/59
Party Affiliation: Democrat

Elisa Singer
1 Berrian Road
New Rochelle, NY 10804
Home Phone: 914-637-6134
Work Phone: 914-637-8024
Email: squaredesignusa@gmail.com (kicked back undeliverable)
DOB: 4/21/60
Party Affiliation: Democrat

Rev. Harry Dawkins
128 Mayflower Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Home Phone: 914-633-7278
Work Phone: 914-355-5897, 914-592-5600
Email: info@scmklc.com (kicked back undeliverable)
DOB: 11/16/52
Party Affiliation: Democrat

Richard "Rick" Smith
97 Surrey Drive
New Rochelle, NY 10804
Home Phone: 914-632-0577, 914-235-1891
Work Phone: 914-633-0033
DOB: 5/25/57
Party Affiliation: Democrat

================

Steve Horton
sdh@nrmha.org
914-636-7050

Ira Goldenberg
igoldenberg@hwkmlaw.com
igoldenberg@goldenbergselkerlaw.com
914-997-0999

Angela Farrish
afarrish@nrmha.org
914-636-7050 x201

The next meeting of the NRMHA board is July 14, 2014 at 50 Sickles Avenue. I intend to be there. If you care to join me in an effort to bring transparency and accountability to the NRMHA Board please contact me at robertcox@talkofthesound.com.

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