Housing director’s support dwindles
Medford board set to review allegations
A senior member of the Medford Housing Authority board of commissioners says she no longer has confidence in the agency’s executive director, one day after the Globe detailed allegations of favoritism in hiring and retribution against critics at the embattled housing agency.
Sylvia Jean Baumeister, one of four commissioners who oversee the agency, said Tuesday that she was deeply troubled by the Globe report about Robert Covelle’s leadership, as well as by a recent federal audit that found pervasive rule violations in hiring contractors.
“No, I do not support [Covelle],’’ said Baumeister, a former board chairwoman and a commissioner since 1992. “There are too many questions, too many things that weren’t done right.’’ She said Covelle’s performance will be discussed at the board meeting on Wednesday.
Covelle declined to comment. He has previously said he has done nothing wrong despite facing both state and federal investigations into whether the agency improperly awarded jobs and contracts to friends and family members.
Covelle, whose annual salary is $120,000, also faces eroding support from the City Council, where Councilor Robert Penta called last week for Covelle’s removal, though the council has no direct oversight of the housing agency.
Penta, whose motion for Covelle’s ouster was defeated on a 5-to-2 vote, vowed to continue pushing for change at the agency. “I have a duty to safeguard the public interest,’’ he said. “I’m calling for the state to . . . put the housing authority into receivership.’’
Once again on Tuesday night, the council railed against the housing authority’s alleged dysfunction, but councilors declined to approve a measure calling for Covelle’s ouster, instead approving a vote of no confidence, 4 to 3.
The state’s top housing official, Aaron Gornstein, said he finds allegations against Covelle very troubling, but said he would take no action until Attorney General Martha Coakley completes her investigation.
“Our primary concern is to ensure that the tenants of the housing authority continue to receive the services they need and taxpayer dollars are protected,’’ said Gornstein, undersecretary for Housing and Community Development, which launched the first investigation of the Medford authority in response to a complaint last June.
Most of the housing authority’s budget comes from the federal government. Three of the board members, including Baumeister, were appointed by Mayor Michael J. McGlynn, and a fourth by Governor Deval Patrick.
McGlynn did not return a telephone call Tuesday.
Baumeister said she was particularly concerned about Covelle’s two-day suspension of an employee who had gone to the board with complaints about alleged favoritism in hiring and promotions.
Housing coordinator Bonnie Curran was suspended in March for alleged rudeness. Baumeister said she only learned of Curran’s suspension from the Globe.
“You don’t suspend someone who has brought a complaint to you,’’ she said. “That creates an atmosphere of fear. People think: ‘I’m not saying anything. I don’t want to lose my job.’ ’’
Baumeister said she was also troubled by the hiring of a former authority commissioner to a newly created position at an annual salary of $85,000. John Lonergan, whose family is friendly with McGlynn, went on the payroll in 2010, one year to the day after he resigned from the board, just long enough to meet a federal requirement that former commissioners wait a year before taking a job at the agency.
Baumeister said the timing makes it look as if Covelle held the job open for Lonergan, even while the authority spent time and money interviewing other job candidates.
The housing board’s chairman, Eugene McGillicuddy, said: “I have confidence in [Covelle] up to a point . . . Has he done anything wrong? I don’t have the foggiest idea. Is he rough around the edges? Yes, but he is also a dedicated worker.’’
Another board member, William Young, said he is unsure whether Covelle will remain on the job, but added “everyone is innocent until proven guilty.’’