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Medford Housing Authority blasted by City Council

Posted by Matt Byrne  April 18, 2012 10:04 AM

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A handful of Medford city councilors Tuesday lambasted the Medford Housing Authority and its directors after a federal audit identified millions of dollars paid to contractors and landlords without proper documentation.

"This is one of the worst audits I've ever read in my 40 years of finance," said Robert A. Maiocco, council president. "It's a financial report card. And the marks are absolutely terrible."

In the 31-page report, a regional auditor for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the agency paid contractors or vendors for the work that was not finalized in a signed contract. In other cases, the jobs were not put out for competitive bid, the audit said.

Of 26 transactions between the Housing Authority and vendors or contractors that the auditor examined, 21 contained at least one violation of HUD regulations. In 10 instances, the authority paid for work without a contract, the audit said, and kept inconsistent records of contracts it had already signed.

But the City Council stopped short of officially calling for Executive Director Robert Covelle's ouster, saying that the troubled authority has a short time to submit remediation plans before the audit is finalized April 30.

City Solicitor Mark Rumley also said a separate audit of the authority by the state is expected in June.

Although the councilors and the city's mayor, Michael J. McGlynn, have no direct oversight or involvement in the authority, City Councilor Robert A. Penta still questioned the June 2009 hiring of Covelle and the Housing Authority commissioners.

"[Covelle] was a political excuse to satisfy someone's preference for who got a job," Penta said. "He should be gone, and the board of directors should be suspect."

Covelle was not present at Tuesday's meeting.

During more than 90 minutes of discussion, Penta read into the record the most glaring audit findings before recommending that the state place the authority into receivership, a motion that later failed on the floor by a 2-5 vote.

He also suggested that the four members of the authority's commission -- who are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council -- step down.

The housing authority's directors are slated to meet Wednesday night, likely to be closely watched by councilors and city officials. The Board of Commissioners includes Sylviajean Baumeister, chair; Eugene J. McGillicuddy, treasurer; Michael A. Luongo, and William Young, assistant treasurer.

While the future of the agency remains in question, City Councilor Paul Camuso sought to combat the public perception that the audit could effect authority services, and successfully motioned to urge the authority to communicate directly with citizens.

"The Board of Commissioners should send a letter out to every single resident of the housing developments and [to] the Section 8 housing recipients, to ensure everyone that their needs are going to be met," Camuso said.

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