By Donald Wittkowski
An Ocean City Housing Authority commissioner who helped the agency recover from an embezzlement scandal this year involving its former executive director will be posthumously honored by having a new building named in his memory.
The authority announced Tuesday during its monthly board meeting that a proposed $4.2 million affordable-housing project will be named in honor of Edmond C. Speitel Sr., who died on Sept. 11 at the age of 61.
Also at the meeting, the authority swore in three new commissioners to finally bring its seven-member board up to full strength. The commissioners are Mike Dattilo, a former Ocean City business administrator, M. Sean Scarborough, a prominent residential and commercial developer, and Beverly McCall, an attorney.
Speitel’s wife of 40 years, Diane, was at the meeting to receive a copy of a resolution that lauded her husband’s dedication to an agency that provides affordable housing for low-income senior citizens, families and disabled residents.
“He would be so humbled by this honor,” Diane Speitel told the board members. “This was one of his biggest passions.”
In a brief interview afterward, Speitel noted that it was “quite a shock” when she first learned on Sunday of the authority’s plans.
Edmond Speitel’s name will grace a new senior-citizen complex that is replacing the authority’s Pecks Beach Village housing site on Fourth Street. The 20-unit project is expected to be ready by the end of 2019.
The two-story building for senior citizens will be constructed on what is now a parking lot adjacent to the authority’s Bay View Manor housing complex at Sixth Street and West Avenue. It will be funded by a Hurricane Sandy recovery grant.
Speitel, who was chairman of the authority’s finance and redevelopment committees, helped to oversee the project from the conceptual phase. Authority representatives are scheduled to meet with city officials on Nov. 29 to begin some of the preliminary work leading up to construction. A public hearing will be scheduled later to give Ocean City residents an overview of the project, including its construction timetable.
By naming the building in Speitel’s honor, it will ensure that his legacy at the housing authority will always be remembered, the board members said.
“As a result of what we’re doing tonight, his memory will live on in Ocean City and at the housing authority forever,” said Bob Barr, a city councilman who also serves as chairman of the authority.
Speitel took on a leading role in reforming the authority’s management and finances following the firing in May of former Executive Director Alesia Watson, who pleaded guilty to embezzling federal housing funds from the agency. Watson was sentenced to three years of probation in September.
Barr praised Speitel for helping the agency recover from the “chaos” of the past year. The authority has since restructured its finances and brought on a new executive director, Jacqueline Jones, as it continues to regroup from the embezzlement crisis.
Barr said even now, two months after Speitel’s death, he still must fight the urge to call Speitel to seek his advice and discuss housing authority business.
“Boy, did I get to know a quality person,” Barr said, becoming emotional during his remarks.
“He was a pillar of the community,” Barr added.
Scott Halliday, an authority commissioner who served with Speitel on the board, recalled Speitel’s attention to detail and his willingness to go the “extra mile” to help the agency.
“He wanted to do it the right way, and he did it the right way,” Halliday said.
Sean Scarborough, one of the authority’s new commissioners, noted that he worked closely with Speitel in the private sector and was a friend.
“We worked together for 30 years,” Scarborough said.
Speitel, who owned an engineering firm, collaborated with Scarborough’s development company, Scarborough Properties, on its residential and commercial projects.
Following Speitel’s death and the resignation of another housing commissioner, Portia Thompson, the board dipped to only four members and struggled to conduct its business. The September and October board meetings were canceled due to the lack of a quorum.
The appointments of Scarborough and Mike Dattilo to the board were announced in October, but Tuesday was their first meeting. Scarborough’s appointment was approved by City Council. Dattilo’s appointment was made by Mayor Jay Gillian.
Dattilo brings more than 30 years of local government service to the housing authority. During his municipal career with Ocean City, he held a series of high-level positions. Most notably, he was appointed as the city’s business administrator when Gillian became mayor in 2010. Dattilo retired five years later.
There had been another vacancy on the housing authority for more than a year because of a delay by Gov. Chris Christie in appointing his representative to the board. However, the governor’s seat has now been filled by Beverly McCall, a Sea Isle City attorney who lives in Ocean City. Tuesday was McCall’s first board meeting.
McCall said she expressed interest in the housing authority seat in a letter to Sen. Jeff Van Drew, the Democratic lawmaker who represents Cape May County. She noted that Van Drew passed her letter along to the governor’s office, resulting in her appointment.
McCall, who has practiced law for more than 30 years, said she hopes to use her extensive legal experience to help the housing authority.