Housing Authority Puts Back the Pieces

The new Chelsea Housing Authority Board met for the first time last Thursday. The five new Board members took the place of a Board that suddenly resigned last fall after a salary scandal broke out with former Executive Director Michael McLaughlin. One of the first orders of business last week was to elect officers, and Thomas Standish was chosen as the new chair of the Board.

Five new Board members took their seats last Thursday in the conference room at the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA), the first step and first meeting in a process of putting back the pieces for an Authority whose administration was suddenly blown to smithereens last fall.

The conference room looked pretty much the same as it did before the scandal.

There were awards still on the walls trumpeting the CHA’s high-performer status during times when, in hindsight, a major cover-up was going on amongst the highest-ranking officials in the organization.

There were certificates of appreciation still hanging on the walls from the early 2000s. The names of several employees still adorned those certificates.

Noticably absent – and recently removed – were two certificates that hung in the middle of the display.

One could only guess who those awards belonged to, but it would be pretty safe to say that one of them was former Executive Director Michael McLaughlin.

In fact, all over the office there was still evidence of the former regime, accolades of outstanding achievement that now seem rather hollow.

However, some of those awards contain the names of people who did good work at the Authority and are still around trying to help pick up the pieces.

Those people – such as new Executive Director Al Ewing and Assistant Executive Director Diane Cohen – took their seats alongside the new faces last Thursday and joined in the journey to a new and better place.

Sitting in their Board seats for the first time were Juan Vega, Barbara Salisbury, Thomas Standish, Bert Taverna and Don Kingsbury. It was an entirely new Board, chosen and vetted under a very intense spotlight.

From the opening of the meeting, there was an air of transparency and everyone seemed to be treading carefully with each piece of business.

Such careful discussion trickled down even to how many times a month the Board would meet and how much oversight the Board would have over routine bill payments.

“I would prefer to meet twice a month,” pronounced Kingsbury. “My thought behind that is the disbursements, and that we can see and approve all of those payments. I think we should have oversight over that to make sure the disbursements are going where they should. Not that I don’t trust anybody, but if I’m going to be on the hook for anything, I want to know what we’re spending.”

Board members sympathized with the request, but many felt it might be an overreaction – though the thought wasn’t completely dismissed.

“I don’t believe that format would be effective,” said Salisbury.

“I don’t think that’s a function of the Board,” added Taverna.

But given the recent past, the matter wasn’t altogether dismissed.

The Board decided to meet once a month, and to get a report on all disbursements at that monthly meeting as well as monthly financial reports.

The Board debated fundamental rules of the body – such as what constitutes a quorum – and also the detailed bylaws.

Taking the natural lead on the Board was Standish.

And when it came time to elect officers, he was the unanimous choice to be the new chair of the Board.

Members elected Salisbury as the vice chair, Taverna as the Treasurer and Vega as the assistant treasurer.

The Board also appointed Kingsbury – who was very vocal at the meeting – and Standish to sit on its first committee, a committee that will fine-tune the Board’s rules and by-laws and report back at the April meeting.

The Board now will meet on the fourth Wednesday of every month.

In adjournment, it was clear that while there are still a lot of reminders of the recent past within the CHA, the organization is clearly headed in a completely different direction.

“This is a really good Board, definitely,” said City Councillor Brian Hatleberg, who came to observe the first meeting.

“I really think they’re back on track, and I feel confident with these new people in place,” added Council President Leo Robinson, who also was there to observe.

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