Embattled NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye returned to the scene of the crime Tuesday, appearing before the same City Council members she’d misinformed about lead paint inspections during a prior hearing under oath.
This time she testified — again under oath — about the record number of heating outages that have made life miserable for thousands of NYCHA tenants during the recent deep freeze.
On this occasion, however, she brought along the city’s top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, a move that made the already hostile dynamic even more so.
The hearing before the Oversight and Investigations Committee quickly entered the toxic zone.
“NYCHA has a chairwoman whose credibility has sustained irreversible damage,” Committee Chairman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) said in his opening remarks.
Though the hearing was called to address the heating debacle, during four hours of questioning it inevitably revisited a sore spot that has left Council members skeptical about pretty much anything Olatoye has to say.
During a Dec. 5 Council hearing on NYCHA’s longstanding failure to perform required lead paint inspections, Olatoye stated under oath that 4,200 inspections performed in 2016 had been completed by NYCHA workers with federally required certification.
But the city Department of Investigation soon after discovered that only a handful of NYCHA workers had the correct certification and that most, if not all, of the inspections were likely performed by untrained workers.
On Tuesday she insisted she never intended to mislead the Council, but she wouldn’t say if any staff member who gave her bad information had been disciplined.
Asked to explain what happened, she replied, “Are we having conversations about the integrity of our data? Absolutely.”
As the questioning grew more intense, Carter — who’d remained silent during the heating system testimony — stepped forward to intervene for Olatoye.
He insisted in a terse exchange that Olatoye had responded adequately, stating, “It may not be the answer you want to hear, but she did answer the question.”
Asked by Speaker Corey Johnson about why he was there, Carter claimed there was “no specific focus, just that fact that this is an important issue.”
Carter has never attended any other Council hearing on NYCHA in the last four years.
After the hearing, he would not explain to the Daily News why he chose to show up for this one.
At one point during the hearing, Johnson asked Olatoye to apologize, stating, “Just say you’re sorry that it’s gotten to this point.”
She declined, and she often deferred to subordinates to answer questions.
Before it was over, she’d conceded that since Oct. 1, more than 320,000 tenants have experienced heat outages so far this winter and that five separate disconnected data systems track NYCHA’s heat system.
Olatoye did try to offer a measure of contrition.
“Even with significant preparation, NYCHA’s infrastructure and dedicated staff were no match for the historic weather in early January,” she said.
But tenants frequently interrupted with catcalls and boos, especially when a NYCHA official promised to “follow up” later on questions they didn’t answer.
“Everything is follow-up with you guys,” a tenant shouted.