The new executive director of the Brick Township Housing Authority is heralded by officials as a caring advocate for residents who goes above and beyond the call of duty, though nine years ago she had to step down from a similar position in Atlantic City after a newspaper revealed criminal convictions in her past.
Nearly a decade after the Atlantic City position fell through, Alesia R. Watson, who was appointed in November by the seven-member Board of Commissioners for the housing authority, admits she made mistakes in her younger years and is committed to the authority’s residents.
The authority’s board, which operates apartment buildings for low-income and disabled residents in a complex off Chambers Bridge Road, appointed Watson as its executive director in November through a shared services agreement with the Ocean City Housing Authority, for which Watson also serves as executive director.
Under the contract with the Ocean City authority, a copy of which was obtained by Shorebeat through an Open Public Records Act request, Brick Township’s authority pays a flat fee of $50,000 per year for the services of an executive director to work alternating three and two day weeks. An hourly rate of $76.10 is paid by Brick for hours exceeding those in the agreement when they are required.
The contract was approved by the state Department of Community Affairs on Oct. 30, 2014, according to additional documentation obtained by Shorebeat. Watson is not considered a direct employee of the Brick authority even though she serves as its executive director, the contract states.
Since starting in Brick, Watson has drawn praise from residents and has gone “above and beyond,” said Kim V. Terebush, chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners.
“There were times when she was there many more hours and days than even requested because there were situations that needed to be addressed,” Terebush said.
Likewise, Ed Kiesche, the board’s vice chairman, praised Watson’s work ethic.
“From what I’ve seen, being with her at the meetings, she’s doing a great job and the tenants love her,” Kiesche said. “She’s very personable.”
Watson, however, was the subject of a front-page story in the Press of Atlantic City in 2006 that ultimately led to her resignation as executive director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority. Then known as Alesia Humphrey, the article referenced criminal convictions dating back to 1992 for theft and credit card fraud. The criminal convictions have been re-verified by Shorebeat.
Her legal troubles date back to an arrest in 1992, when she was charged with two counts of credit card theft, three counts of unlawful use, and theft by deception, according to the original Press of Atlantic City report. She was indicted by a Somerset County grand jury on two counts of credit card theft and theft by deception and ultimately pleaded guilty to a single count of theft by deception for which she received a sentence of probation. She was charged again with forgery, theft by deception and credit card theft in 1994, then again in 2000 with credit card theft, fraudulent use of credit cards and forgery.
All of the charges culminated in plea deals; Watson served a total of 31 days in jail and served probation. Her legal troubles ended in 2003, with a probation violation, for which she was sentenced to 131 days in jail, but given credit for time served, according to The Press’s report at the time.
Watson does not shy away or deny her past. Instead, she told Shorebeat this week that she’s committed to having positively changed her ways in order to help those less fortunate.
“I made some mistakes in my life, and I’ve cleaned myself up and turned myself around,” Watson said. “I went back to college and turned everything around. You learn from your mistakes, and you change and move on.”
Terebush said there were “ample background questions” asked before Watson was appointed.
“There was nothing that was brought to our attention as an authority,” she said.
Indeed, none of the offenses for which Watson was convicted preclude her from serving as executive director of a housing authority.
That was confirmed by Terry Brady, the housing authority’s attorney, according to Terebush, who said she consulted with the board attorney after rumors of the criminal convictions began to make their way around town.
Watson hails from an Atlantic County family known for holding considerable political clout in New Jersey. She is the daughter of Lena and Bernard Fulton; Lena Fulton’s company, Atlantic Associates Insurance, has covered numerous governmental entities, and Bernard Fulton was a political luminary in Atlantic City, helping to elect the city’s first black mayor after moving there in 1969.
Watson holds an undergraduate degree from Sojourner-Douglass College and an MBA from American Intercontinental University. She was appointed executive director of the Ocean City Housing Authority in August 2013.
Brick’s housing authority has long had a full-time executive director in charge, and the idea of the authority sharing an executive director with another agency has raised some concerns in the community. For many years, Dennis Salerno, a Republican appointee, served in the role, until stepping down in 2012. Former Brick councilman Anthony Matthews, also a Republican, was in a leadership position in the authority, apparently until recently, when he was let go.
Matthews has not filed any litigation against the authority over his departure, but said he had the necessary certifications to step into the executive director role on a permanent basis. That was disputed by Kiesche, who said Matthews lacked the certifications required under the law.
“He just didn’t have those certificates,” Kiesche said, otherwise complimenting the job Matthews did at the authority.
Since Salerno’s departure, the leadership of the authority as a whole has been in flux.
The board received “quite a number of resumes” when they posted advertisements for the position earlier this year, Terebush said. A personnel committee then poured over resumes before a few final applicants were interviewed by the board as a whole, she said.
Before hiring Watson, the board attempted to hire Victor Cirilo, a Democratic city councilman in West Orange, for the job. Like Watson, Cirilo already serves as executive director of another authority – in his case, the Passaic Housing Authority. Cirilo was never formally appointed since the Passaic board would not approve the shared services agreement, Terebush said.
Watson was the next candidate selected and has been serving in the role ever since.
With housing authorities receiving less money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development due to sequestration in Washington, many are beginning to team up and share executive directors, Terebush said.
“This is now common practice with small housing authorities. It’s a cost savings factor” said Watson. “When you have small housing authorities, EDs can do it with technology.”
Though the agreement calls for alternating two and three day weeks at both the Brick and Ocean City authorities, Watson said need dictates her schedule more than any other factor.
“If I need to be there three days a week or four, I’m going to be there,” she said. “I’m making sure I’m visible.”
Watson said since coming to Brick, she has focused on starting programs to help residents become more self-sufficient where they can. She has also started Bible studies in community rooms, and worked with local churches to make Communion available to residents.
“The goal is to create a good quality of life for our seniors,” Watson said.
Additionally, Watson is currently in the process of helping to secure a $283,000 safety and security grant for the facility.
“Things like this, where she is really experienced in knowing how to move an authority and a complex forward, are certainly worth talking about,” Terebush said.