The city council cleared the way for Kevin Michael Henry — who in 2015 won a school board seat, but was barred from assuming office due to decades old criminal records — to serve on the Paterson Housing Authority board on Tuesday night.
Councilman Alex Mendez nominated Henry to fill the seat being vacated by his previous appointee Joel Ramirez. Ramirez is running for the school board this year.
“He’s a man of character. I came back to fight this case,” said Mendez, who has known Henry since 2009. He defied the Paterson Housing Authority’s recommendation of forgoing the nomination due to Henry’s forgery and theft convictions 26 years ago.
“I admit more than 20 years ago I made some mistakes,” said Henry on Tuesday night at the city council.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” said Mendez. The authority cited a repealed law to disqualify Henry from taking office.
The housing authority bylaws does not have any requirements that a board member undergo a criminal background. It also does not have any clauses to disqualify a member from taking up a seat due to criminal records, according to Irma Gorham, director of the Paterson Housing Authority.
Council members approved his appointment in an 8-0 vote. Councilman Andre Sayegh was not present during the midnight vote.
“Let me get sworn in first,” said a cautious Henry following the vote. He knows too well not to celebrate too early from his January 2016 experience at the school board swearing-in event.
Henry was barred from taking office leading to a confrontation with state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans. Some council members questioned whether he was fit for appointment citing that incident.
“It was humiliating and unfair,” said Henry recalling that episode from last year. He said he was told he was disqualified just two hours prior to the meeting. Indeed, Henry’s assertion of unfairness was confirmed when it emerged another candidate who won a seat in the same election took office without a background check.
“I don’t think I have seen scrutiny like this appointment,” said Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large. “There’s nothing to indicate you can’t serve on that board.”
“That’s correct,” affirmed the city’s chief lawyer Domenick Stampone. His team has thoroughly researched the issue and has concluded nothing bars Henry from becoming a member of the Paterson Housing Authority board.
“We had no reason to bar him,” said Stampone. He noted Henry was barred from the Board of Education because school board members have to go through a far more stringent clearing process.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres who has viewed Henry’s nomination in favorable terms now has to swear him in to the unpaid job.