By Donald Wittkowski
A prominent local builder and a former top government official have been appointed to the board of the Ocean City Housing Authority in the latest move to restructure the agency following an embezzlement scandal involving its former chief executive.
M. Sean Scarborough, a principal in the development company Scarborough Properties, and Mike Dattilo, who served as Ocean City’s business administrator before retiring in 2015, are expected to join the board in November.
Scarborough’s appointment was approved by City Council on Tuesday. Dattilo’s appointment, also announced Tuesday, was made by Mayor Jay Gillian.
Scarborough and Dattilo are filling two vacancies that had been making it difficult for the housing authority to hold its monthly board meetings.
The board lacked a quorum for its September and October meetings, so both were canceled. The board, which should have seven members, had two vacancies caused by the death of Ed Speitel and resignation of Portia Thompson in September.
A third vacancy exists because Gov. Chris Christie has not yet appointed his representative to the authority. The governor’s seat has been open for more than a year, and it is not yet clear when Christie intends to fill it.
The appointment of Scarborough and Dattilo comes at a critical time. The authority is in the midst of reforming its 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.
During an interview Wednesday, Scarborough said the embezzlement scandal created a “very turbulent” situation at the authority.
“That’s certainly not an Ocean City style of running things,” he said.
Scarborough noted that he must first get the “lay of the land” at the authority before he might propose any changes to continue reforming the agency.
The housing authority uses federal funds to provide affordable housing for low-income senior citizens, families and the disabled at its Pecks Beach Village and Bay View Manor facilities in Ocean City.
After Watson was removed, Jacqueline Jones, the executive director of the Vineland Housing Authority, took on the same role at the Ocean City Housing Authority under a shared-services agreement between both towns.
In another crucial part of its operations, the authority is making plans to build a new $4.2 million affordable-housing complex that will replace its Pecks Beach Village site. The project is expected to be ready by the end of 2019.
Architectural renderings for the new project are expected to be presented to the board in November, the first meeting for Scarborough and Dattilo.
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 Jay Gillian became mayor in 2010. Dattilo retired five years later.
Scarborough, meanwhile, said he wants to use his experience in the construction industry to help the authority with the planning and development of its housing projects.
“We do have a lot of background in construction and permitting,” Scarborough said, referring to his company. “I would hope that some of that experience would be useful in doing a small part in guiding the authority’s actions.”
Scarborough’s Somers Point-based company has had a hand in building an array of major housing and commercial projects at the Jersey Shore. Its portfolio includes a ShopRite-anchored shopping center in Marmora and the Harbour Cove Marina in Somers Point. The company also oversaw a $125 million expansion of Shore Medical Center and construction of the Somers Point hospital’s cancer center.
Scarborough, 52, an Ocean City resident since the 1990s, is filling the vacancy created by Speitel’s death. Speitel was a pivotal member of the housing authority, serving as chairman of its finance and redevelopment committees.
Scarborough said he considers it an honor to take Speitel’s place on the board. The two men were close friends.
“He was an incredible human being. There’s no way I could fill his shoes,” Scarborough said.
Speitel, who owned an engineering company, collaborated with Scarborough Properties on its development projects for decades.
“Ed Speitel did every one of our engineering drawings for 30 years and worked in our office for 25 years,” Scarborough said.