In a development that has stunned many in the community, the state has indicated that the contract of Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Executive Director Albert Ewing is not valid and should be re-negotiated.
In a letter to the CHA Board on May 9th that was obtained by the Record, Deborah Goddard – chief counsel of the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) – indicated that her agency has not and will not approve Ewing’s contract and that the contract needs to be revised.
“As I stated in an earlier e-mail correspondence, DHCD has not and will not approve the contract submitted to us for review,” read the letter. “DHCD regulations explicitly require DHCD approval of executive director contracts and have the force of law. Contracts for executive director are not valid and effective unless and until approved by DHCD. Therefore, the CHA board as the opportunity to make changes and submit a revised version of the contract for DHCD review and approval. We appreciate the board’s desire to take this opportunity to bring the proposed compensation and terms of the contract in line with our standards and the those of standard contracting protocols.”
According to state regulations obtained from the state’s website (760 CMR 4.05), DHCD must approve any executive director’s contract, along with the local board.
“If the local housing authority and the executive director shall have negotiated an employment agreement to be funded in whole or in part by the Department, the Department shall have approved the agreement,” read the regulation.
Once again, DHCD said they had not approved Ewing’s contract, and thus, it is not currently valid and can be changed.
That news pretty much shut the door on many who felt that opening Ewing’s contract was unnecessary, and that the contract was valid and already approved. According to DHCD, it was never approved at the state level. The controversy over the contract erupted at the first meeting of the new CHA Board when the board surprisingly voted to re-open Ewing’s contract and send it to the state for review. That contract had been negotiated by the previous board, all of whom have resigned and are under investigation by the state. However, the contract seemed to meet the muster of CHA Receiver Judith Weber, who indicated it wasn’t completely out of line.
Now, it appears that it is pretty well out of line in the eyes of the new board and state housing officials.
In particular, the CHA Board and DHCD are concerned over Ewing’s compensation and the stipulations for removing him – if necessary.
In an e-mail correspondence between Goddard and CHA attorney Susan Whalen that was obtained by the Record, it was revealed the major concerns within the contract.
“The salary in the proposed contract exceeds the standards/limits published by DHCD,” read the e-mail from Goddard. “And at first review, I was concerned about clear errors in the drafting of the contract, particularly in Section 3, where the language of the section does not match the heading. Comparing it to the form previously used by the CHA, it appears that the Ewing contract contained faulty ‘cut and paste’ edits.”
The severance clause in the contract (which is used for removal) indicates the only way for Ewing to be removed from his position is if he gives 30-days notice.
The above news comes on the cusp of what is expected to be a very contentious monthly meeting of the CHA Board, which happened on Wednesday night and came too late for inclusion in this edition of the Record.
Nevertheless, Chair Tom Standish did address the letters prior to the meeting when the Record indicated they had been obtained.
Standish said part of the information reported would be discussed in Executive Session, and part of it – particularly the information from Goddard – would be discussed in the public session of the meeting.
“A subcommittee has met to discuss this information and they will report out a strategy,” he said. “The Board will act and come to a course of action, if they agree on it, to authorize a subcommittee to negotiate (a new contract) on behalf of the Board and bring results back.”
Previously, the Record obtained Ewing’s contract and it was revealed that his compensation is at least $135,000 per year for seven years. It also included personal use of a CHA vehicle and other benefits.
However, it is the $135,000 salary in the contract that is bugging board members and state officials.
Standish and Board member Barbara Salisbury told the Record that state guidelines target Ewing’s salary at a much lower rate, especially considering he doesn’t have any previous management experience. Prior to becoming the director last fall, he worked at the CHA as a program administrator.
The concerns of both board members was also reflected in correspondence from the DHCD to the CHA, also obtained by the Record. That correspondence showed that – according to DHCD standards – Ewing’s salary should be somewhere in the $80,000 range.
“The salary range is $82,100 to $85,158,” wrote Chris McClave of the DHCD. “At the time of being selected for the executive director position, Al was earning $94,556. Our policy where the executive director salary schedule calculates the salary for the executive director at less than what they are currently making at the same housing authority is to allow an increase to the current salary, taking into consideration increased responsibilities and authority. In addition, we advise to look at what the highest paid administrative position is at the authority and indicate that the executive director should make more than that person.”
According to CHA records, the highest paid person other than Ewing is Deputy Director Diane Cohen – who makes $94,906 per year.
A scan of other housing authority directors showed that the Arlington director made $113,300, the Revere director made $107,177, and the Salem director made $110,610.
Both Salisbury and Standish told the Record that the board is not out to get Ewing – as some in the community and in local unions have quietly postulated. They said they merely wanted to work with him.
“We want to see Al succeed here,” said Salisbury. “No one wants to get rid of him. We think he can do the job, but we want him to work with us a little bit to get things more in line with the state guidelines.”
Kingsbury resigns due to health reasons
It’s been a short ride on the new CHA Board for Don Kingsbury, the newly-tapped resident member of the board who resigned from the position last week.
Kingsbury, who had quickly developed into a thoughtful and against-the-grain voice on the board, resigned the post suddenly due to health reasons.
Some had originally thought that he resigned due to differences between himself and the other four board members, but that was not the case.
City Manager Jay Ash said that he will begin looking for another resident board member as soon as possible.
“I wish the best for Don’s health and regret our loss of him on the board,” said Ash. “We’ll begin the process of replacing him, per state and federal regulations, right away.”
The CHA Board was expected to accept Kingsbury’s resignation at Wednesday night’s meeting.