The Chelsea Retirement Board last Thursday morning tabled the pension request of former Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Executive Director Michael McLaughlin in a decision that featured one somewhat controversial non-vote by member Fred Nowicki.
After a brief discussion of the issue, the Board voted unanimously to table the McLaughlin matter until more information is available concerning several ongoing state investigations.
Yet, it was the vote that wasn’t cast that drew a bit of controversy.
Member Fred Nowicki voted ‘present’ as the rest of the Board voted decisively and confidently to table the matter.
Nowicki’s son, Paul, has been connected to McLaughlin for several years.
When Paul Nowicki was a Chelsea City Councillor, at one time a president of that body, McLaughlin was one of his biggest campaign contributors. According to state campaign finance reports, McLaughlin regularly gave Paul Nowicki the maximum allowable contribution of $500 per year.
More recently, Paul Nowicki got a job from McLaughlin under a federal grant to work in security at the CHA, transferring over from a job as a court officer.
When asked about his vote, Fred Nowicki didn’t tell reporters much about his decision.
“You know why. What are you askin’ me for?” he said.
Later, he also added, “You can make your own insinuations if you want to.”
Beyond the Nowicki angle, the Board was stoic and solid in tabling the application.
Board Chair Joe Siewko said that they had received two letters, both of them indicating that the Board should wait until further notice before making any decisions on McLaughlin’s pension.
More importantly, Siewko told the Board that he had just received two official communications Thursday morning from the Attorney General’s office informing the Board of a civil and criminal investigation that is underway into McLaughlin’s dealings at the CHA.
“We urge the Chelsea Retirement Board to decline to act on Mr. McLaughlin’s pension application until our office has had opportunity to complete those investigations,” read one of the letters from the AG’s Office, signed by Edward Bedrosian Jr. – First Assistant Attorney General.
With all of that as a backdrop, the Board had a relatively easy decision.
It was made even easier when it was pointed out by Board Attorney Brian Monahan that McLaughlin had failed to fill out several parts of his retirement application – leaving blank parts of his employment history.
“The application is incomplete,” said Monahan.
The official motion to table came from Board member Carolyn Russo – who moved that the Board table the matter.
“I would like to make a motion to table the application of Michael McLaughlin for superannuation,” she said.
After some discussion as to why they were doing so, it was also revealed that McLaughlin had checked off a box on his application that stated he was not aware of any official investigation being conducted on him.
He turned in the retirement application late last week.
In the end, Russo, Siewko, Richard Incerto and City Auditor Ed Dunn voted to table the matter – with the representative eyes of the state’s retirement system watching the vote carefully.
Nowicki did not recuse himself from the discussion, as was supposed, but voted ‘Present’ and did not speak on the issue.
Siewko said things are too murky now with the situation – outside of the official investigations – for the Board to vote on McLaughlin’s matter.
“We really don’t have a clear picture of what we’re voting on right now,” he told reporters. “This board will not be intimidated to vote on any issue. I don’t care who is involved.”