Charleston Housing authority Executive Director Don Cameron is under the gun for using the authority’s credit card for personal use.
A few months ago, a housing authority employee called to ask if I’d investigate the spending. Folks have been after Cameron’s head for a long time. I thought the request was some personal vendetta. I gave up on fighting other folks’ personal battles a long time ago. I was usually the one who ended up with the black eye. I backed off.
But passing up on the housing authority story seemed a mistake last week when others jumped on it. Leading the charge was mayoral hopeful Dudley Gregorie. The Cameron administration of the housing authority was put in place under Charleston Mayor Joe Riley’s municipal administration. I think it’s safe to say Riley has protected Cameron’s administration over the years. Gregorie, a former Housing and Urban Development executive, apparently saw the opportunity to take a shot at Riley through Cameron. But the criticism may be warranted.
Gregorie validated his denunciation, saying any other employee using the company credit card for personal use 88 times would be fired. He has a point. We’re talking about public money. It’s not like that privately-owned company that buys family vehicles out of its budget. The housing authority’s credit card actually belongs to us taxpayers.
I got to know Cameron during my days covering the authority. I found him an amiable fellow. Of course I’ve often wondered why the executive director of an agency whose clientele is 98 percent black is white. And that’s been the case for the past 30 years!
My family lived in public housing when I was a kid. Forty years ago public housing was different from what it is today. There was virtually no crime.
Charleston police statistics show very limited criminal activity in the city’s public housing complexes, but that’s just a numbers game.
Remember the 13-year-old kid gunned down in Robert Mills Manor and the lady shot while hanging clothes in Cooper River Courts by a gunman seeking another target?
One reason crime exists in our public housing complexes is because the authority has failed to insist that adjacent public schools provide quality educational opportunities that prevent successive generational dependence on public assistance.
Charleston taxpayers support community centers in our public housing complexes, but few of them offer viable parenting classes that teach undereducated parents how to navigate today’s complex society — never mind the nuances of modern economics.
We’ve got kids surrounding public playgrounds that offer little more than a basketball rack and summer day camp. Ultimately some of those kids end up on the nearest corner selling drugs.
I think public housing has the opportunity to impact a lot of that, but this administration has failed to do anything to provide more than a roof.
Well, what more should the tenants ask for, you say? A helluva lot more. And we should as well, for the public housing tenants of today who don’t have viable alternatives will inevitably become the public housing tenants of tomorrow.
The current housing administration has failed to think outside the box in meeting the challenges it faces. It’s time for new leadership. Not just because the director may have spent our money without our permission, but because he has failed to be a good steward in other ways.