By Seth Daniel
In 2011, the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) was in total disarray, and Chelsea resident Tom Standish had a long history of putting things back together.
As the chair of the CHA since 2011, putting things back together is exactly what Standish, the other Board members and the staff at CHA did in the wake of the Michael McLaughlin corruption scandal.
Now, with his work seemingly done and the CHA now a high-performer in the public housing world, Standish has stepped aside from his long-time role as chair of an organization that was quite literally brought back from the grave.
“It was a clear case of corruption and the need to restore normalcy to the government,” said Standish recently from his home on the waterfront, a few weeks after stepping down as chair. “Really, it was transparent that someone was controlling the situation and had everyone in line. There needed to be five people who had the strength of character and expertise to guide the CHA back to normalcy. As it turned out, we guided it to high performance.”
After the McLaughlin scandal, few thought that the CHA would ever be put back given the tangled web of accounting fraud and the money not expended on facilities for so long.
Tenants were angry.
The public was angry.
The federal government was angry.
Those five board members, led by Standish, helped restore the confidence.
Standish said he saw a posting about the City looking for talented people to serve on the new board – as the old board had been removed quickly on suspicion of corruption with McLaughlin. With a deep resume as a regulator in the Connecticut government and in other endeavors, he was chosen right off. At the first meeting, his other four colleagues quickly elected him as the chair when he voiced concern over the minutes from the previous meetings – challenging the Board’s attorney.
From there, the rebuilding took place, including the hiring of current CHA Executive Director Al Ewing – who had served previously in the CHA administration.
“It was our task to establish a route that would bring us to restoration of faith in the performance of the duties,” said Standish. “We went on the war path. We got the support of Al Ewing and he did a fabulous job of brining a fee accountant in and an accountant from outside to do an audit…That gave us a lot of confidence in Al. You can change a lot with a big organization if you can get competent, honest people. For me personally, that was a turning point in the organization.”
Another turning point, he said, was when they were able to get the full services of the Nixon Peabody law firm and Attorney Jeff Sacks to help them guide the case against McLaughlin on behalf of the CHA. That was also assisted by Charlestown attorney Susan Whalen, whom the CHA hired.
Standish said, through a mutual friend, he had heard that Nixon Peabody was looking for a case to work on pro bono that would make a difference. As it happened, that case was the CHA’s.
“They were going to pay for it 100 percent,” he said. “It wasn’t one of those where they said they would help us for 75 cents on the dollar. It was 100 percent…Susan Whalen in conjunction with Nixon Peabody were able to move the case forward and were able to get a decision.”
While the matter of McLaughlin’s $200,000 pension is still outstanding, and the McLaughlin matter still appears as a potential Executive Session item on every CHA meeting agenda – for the most part justice was done.
Standish said he was very relieved on the day McLaughlin was sentenced in Boston Federal Court, knowing that justice had been rendered for the tenants and the taxpayers. However, he said he was conflicted about the time and type of sentence – noting that he is glad he did not have to make a recommendation to the court.
“In the end, McLaughlin said he was just trying to keep up with his neighbors,” he said. “He said they all had nice cars and nice houses and he just wanted to keep up with them. It was a totally different McLaughlin than we had seen up to then.”
Overall, Standish said he would look back at his time on the CHA as something of a gift – a way he could give back, and in turn, be given to.
“I was energized by it,” he said. “There are a lot of people who run out and look to be fulfilled in life by making money, but try as they may, nothing is more fulfilling than giving to society…The thing that’s great for me is to see public housing work in Chelsea. I’ve come to realize that high-minded people make this world work. We have been a high-performer every single year since the first one. We worked very hard – many long hours and all uncompensated. It has been invigorating and exciting. I regard it as a gift to have had the opportunity.”
By Seth Daniel
Graduating seniors processing into the gym during the opening ceremony. It was the largest class in 15 years at Chelsea High, with 309 members.
The last time Chelsea High School (CHS) graduated a class as large as the Class of 2017, the Boston Red Sox still hadn’t won a World Series in more than 90 years.
This year’s class featured more than 300 students in the class, the most since 2002, and teachers at CHS said it is one of the most accomplished in many years.
Supt. Mary Bourque said the class is noteworthy not just from the data, but also from their character.
“The class president came to us from Africa when she was 5 years old,” said Bourque. “She spoke movingly at graduation of having returned to her birth country for a visit last year for the first time in 13 years. She came back to CHS with the beginning of the school year, but she came back with open eyes of how she and her peers need to value this country and the opportunities that are presented. She thanked CPS for embracing and supporting her and her peers along the way.
“We are a proud immigrant community; we welcome and educate everyone,” she continued. “The students in our schools are from 58 countries and speak 36 languages. We are not perfect and we still have much work to do to improve our student outcomes, but it is for days like Chelsea High School’s graduation for which we work. It is the renewal and joy we feel when we celebrate our students’ accomplishments.”
One of the most telling statistics is that some 70 percent of the class is moving on to attend a two- or four-year college next year. Another 13 percent are going directly into the workforce, while 6 percent are entering a certificate program or trade school.
Some 3 percent are going to the military.
Of those going to college, the list of schools includes:
- Babson College
- Bentley University
- Boston College – Woods College of Advancing Studies
- Cornell University
- Johnson and Wales University
- Suffolk University
- Tufts University
- University of Massachusetts, Amherst
- University of Massachusetts, Lowell
- University of Connecticut
Additionally, Bourque said students earned $2.3 million in local scholarship programs and scholarships from colleges and universities. That was the most ever.
Students in the Class of 2017 also took advantage of dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses.
More than half of the senior class, 160 in total, enrolled in an AP course.
Students enrolled in dual enrollment at Bunker Hill Community College earned 1,162 college credits while still in high school. Those credits will transfer to their new school in the fall, saving them valuable time and money.
“Dual enrollment graduates saved on future college debt, in tuition and fees, more than $200,000 and $50,000 on books,” said Bourque. “On average, dual enrollment students earned eight credits each; one student earned 27 credits. This student in effect completed one-third of an Associate’s Degree before she even received her high school diploma. Within the next four years, we will have students graduating with an Associate’s Degree at the same time as they graduate from Chelsea High School.”
City Manager Jay Ash said that despite his disappointment with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s (MGC) decision to award the casino license to Wynn Resorts over Mohegan Sun, he’s ready to work with Wynn and take a second look at their project and how it will affect Chelsea.
Ash and Chelsea officials were decidedly in favor of the Mohegan project, mostly because Mohegan had signed a much more lucrative Surrounding Community Agreement (SCA) with Chelsea than did Wynn. Also, officials repeatedly said Mohegan had been much easier to work with than the Wynn negotiators.
All of that if in the past now, though, and Ash said he’s ready to move forward.
“In terms of Wynn, I’m willing to take a new look at their project,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ve seen the last iteration. There are some flaws, most notably around traffic issues, that need to be resolved, and I know they are working to address them. I’m open to looking at what they come up with and especially see how it impacts Chelsea and the region as a whole. There are many benefits of having 4,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in investment less than a mile from our borders. I’m planning on continuing to work on this and hope to line Chelsea up for more benefits if and when the resort casino there does open.”
Ash also said he does plan to support a ‘No’ vote on Question 3 in the November ballot – a vote that would be for keeping the casino legislation and the Wynn project. He said that despite being frustrated with the decision for Wynn, he isn’t backtracking on the gaming industry.
“I’m disappointed with the Gaming Commission decision, but that doesn’t change the fundamental reasons why I support expanded gaming here in Massachusetts,” he said. “We’re exporting more than $1 billion in investment, tens-of-thousands-of-jobs, and $400 million in tax revenues to Connecticut and Rhode Island, and not getting anything in return. We should keep that investment, those jobs and that tax revenue here, and we should enter into what is a $50 billion industry in the country. In Boston alone, there are 20 million visitors a year. Developing out resort casinos will strengthen our tourism and hospitality industries and further broaden our economy so we are not susceptible to major downturns…In short, I think we export too much and have little to show for it, and I believe we can create an industry here that can manage the potential downside while given us additional economic and entertainment benefits.”
After mostly staying out of the casino repeal vote discussion, Wynn Resorts announced last weekend that they would become involved in the ‘No on 3’ campaign over the next month.
When the casino company won their license on Sept. 16, officials from Wynn said they hadn’t made a decision, but as a rule their organization tended to stay out of ballot box issues.
Last weekend, they changed their tune and decided to defend the coveted license they just won last month.
“We will participate with Protect Mass Jobs to provide information to voters about the impact of our industry,” said Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver. “Ultimately and appropriately, the voters of the Commonwealth will decide. They deserve to have factual information which will allow them to make an informed decision.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he applauded Wynn for deciding to get involved in the ballot question because the question is confusing to voters.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary for everyone to get involved so people know exactly what they’re voting on,” he said. “There are people who want casinos and think they have to vote ‘yes,’ but a ‘yes’ vote is against casinos. I applaud Wynn for getting involved and I think they need to be out there to set the record straight on many facts of the Wynn site – getting the right information out there and not allowing others to distort the facts…The question is written to fool people and to trick people. These questions are long and tedious and the information needs to be out there for people before they go to the polls.”
The Everett ‘No on 3’ campaign – also called the Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs – said they were glad to see Wynn Resorts join their effort. However, they said Wynn’s resources didn’t change the strategy of reaching people face-to-face and through the grass roots.
“It doesn’t change our game plan, but Mr. Wynn definitely brings credibility and strength to the effort because he’s a guy originally from Massachusetts and is so important in the industry,” said Everett’s Michael McLaughlin. “There are things and strategies that are going to happen no matter who joins the fight. I am glad Mr. Wynn joined because I think he realizes this is about getting the right information out there about his project. It’s about his duty at this point to try to help us help his industry. I think that’s what he did by joining the Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs.”
City Manager Jay Ash and Anti-Casino Advocate John Ribeiro – of Winthrop – squared off on casinos Sunday morning, July 27, on Channel 5’s popular ‘On the Record’ news magazine show.
Hosted by Ed Harding and Janet Wu of Channel 5, the show typically focuses on two issues for 30-minutes apiece. Last Sunday, Ash stood in as the person advocating for casinos, and Ribeiro held sway with the anti-casino voice.
There was no winner, but Ash said he didn’t agree with Ribeiro’s facts and didn’t feel he could back them up.
“I have a lot of facts on my side,” he said. “I admire John for being in the fight and think our society would be much better if more people became involved in issues as he has done. However, the facts just didn’t bear out in the stories he was telling. He kept talking about budget deficits in other states and that was a reason we shouldn’t have gaming in Massachusetts. I don’t know how that correlates here. There was a Great Recession and that hit every state’s budget in a very negative way. No one has ever suggested Massachusetts’ budget issues would be fully solved by introducing casinos. It’s always been suggested as one part of the solution.”
In one of the more popular segments of the show, the hosts give a five question quiz to the guests. That has been a source of embarrassment for some guests that didn’t do so well on the quiz. However, both Ash and Ribeiro got a perfect score.
Ash also reiterated his stance on casinos and that he believes there is too much money going to gaming facilities in Connecticut and Rhode Island that should be staying in Massachusetts to ease budget pains and create gaming jobs.
“There are seven million trips per year to Connecticut and Rhode Island casinos from Massachusetts,” he said. “That tells me there is a huge market here and many people who would stay local and leave their tax dollars and fund jobs here in Massachusetts and the local community. That’s why we should be continuing to pursue casinos in Massachusetts.”
All in all, Ash said it was a great discussion and there were no winners, but just a good conversation on the issue.
“I disagree with his facts, but there were no mistakes made,” said Ash. “There was no smoking gun revealed. It was more of a conversation than a debate.”
District I Fall Conference, held on October 25 to 27. District I includes Zonta Clubs from
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachustts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Canada.
Almost 100 Zonta Club members attended the Fall Conference in Bedford, MA. Attendees
from the Zonta Club of Chelsea, included Joan Lanzillo-Hahesy; Georgia Green, President;
Zonta International Director, Gabriella Samara Paphitis from Cyprus; and Bonnie Fishman.