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
In the last meeting of the year for the City Council, members voted in several new appointments and re-appointments to City boards – including the approval of long-time activist Gladys Vega to sit on the Planning Board.
Vega received a 10-0 vote with Councillor Giovanni Recupero being absent for all the appointment votes.
Vega said she was looking to get more active in the City’s committees, especially since there has been a call for more people to fill the volunteer – yet critical – roles. She said she planned to become increasingly active in City matters in the coming years if all goes well on the Planning Board.
Meanwhile, Chelsea Housing Chair Tom Standish stepped down from the Board after a monumental and tremendous job in his role as chair for the past several years.
Former CHA Board member Bert Taverna was voted in 10-0 to replace Standish.
Standish was one of the first members of the new Board appointed by the state and former City Manager Jay Ash when the CHA went into receivership following the Michael McLaughlin scandal.
Standish was a solid presence on the Board in the years following the scandal, helping to put the once-troubled CHA back onto solid footing after the fleecing done by McLaughlin to virtually every part of the organization.
Standish led the Board throughout the difficult process, and helped to take it from a troubled agency to a top performer.
After those two appointments, there was Council politics that entered the room, with Councillor Damali Vidot clashing with Councillor Roy Avellaneda on the nine re-appointments.
Vidot has been a staunch advocate for getting new and different people on the City’s boards and said she discovered in the Charter that the City is required to advertise open Board and Commission seats. However, due to an oversight, that hasn’t been done in some time.
Avellaneda disputed that such a thing was in the Charter, and read Section 4 that did not include any such language.
However, after some tussling between members, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it is in Section 9 of the Charter and it was an oversight. He said he will begin to advertise quarterly any openings in the English and Spanish-language newspapers.
To make a point, Vidot voted against all nine re-appointments, which were mostly non-controversial and resulted in 9-1 votes of approval.
Planning Board member Todd Taylor did elicit some controversy, as he was approved by a vote of 7-3, with Councillors Judith Garcia, Vidot and Avellaneda voting against him.
Those voted in on a 9-1 vote were:
- Olivier del Melle, Dudley Street, Planning Board
- Emmanuel Tellez, Broadway, Board of Health
- Robert Pereira, Gerrish Avenue, Historical Commission (replacing Ilana Ascher)
- George Pazos, Union Street, Traffic & Parking Commission
- Marlene Jennings, Breakwater Drive, Cultural Council
- Mark Rossi, Clark Avenue, License Commission
- Robert Lynch, Shawmut Street, Conservation Commission
- Frances Mascolo, Breakwater Drive, Historical Commission.
The Chelsea Housing Authority has put out Requests for Proposals to have a private developer partner with the redevelopment of the Central Ave. and Walnut St. housing complexes.
Both of these projects were built decades ago – Central Ave. in the 1950’s and Walnut St. in the early 1960’s – when the times, and their primary need, were very different.
Today, these housing developments need an upgrade.
The idea of partnering with a private developer has worked well in Columbia Point where more rental units were added, creating a neighborhood of mixed incomes as opposed to being just low-income families. In Charlestown, officials have started the process of a private firm redeveloping the Bunker Hill complex by keeping the 1,100 existing low-income units and adding an additional 1,600 mixed-income units.
The role of government has changed in the last decade. The need for private and public dollars working together has generated a better life for all the residents of our nation.
We are not suggesting that all questions and concerns by residents and city officials should be ignored. The viewpoints of current residents certainly must be considered.
However, we believe that this is an interesting proposal and we agree with Housing Authority Board Chair Tom Standish’s comment, “This is the wave of the future.”
The Board of the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) and Executive Director Al Ewing have come to terms on a contract dispute that – though in the background as compared to the overall repairing of the agency – has been outstanding since 2011.
The contract was recently approved by the Board and state officials and is now in effect, retroactive from Nov. 1, 2014. The three-year contract will pay Ewing $122,000 per year – which was a point of contention when the dispute first went to court.
“It’s a nice thing to have happen,” said Board Chair Tom Standish. “It could have been an adversarial thing all this time and it hasn’t been. We’ve worked well together and will continue to do so.”
Ewing said this week that he is glad to get the contract situation worked out and to move on to rebuilding and reinvigorating the CHA.
“I’m pleased I will continue being executive director at least through October 2017,” he said. “That gives us the opportunity to build on the many victories we’ve had. We’ve done a number of things over the past three years and we want to continue providing these services to our residents.”
One of the most unique things about the contract dispute was that it really just faded away in late 2011 as the CHA and the Board began working on the larger issues of cleaning up after Michael McLaughlin and untangling the web of complexities that was left behind in what has now been exposed as a criminal enterprise.
Originally, the contract was disputed rather vocally, but once it was entered as a court case, nothing more came of it.
That’s when Ewing and the Board seemed to roll up their sleeves and work without any animosity whatsoever despite the ongoing matter.
Standish said it was particularly noteworthy that the relationship withstood
Ewing said he viewed it as separate from his job.
“I think my job here as executive director, no matter what my pay, is to serve the residents,” he said. “I continually try to focus on that. They are two separate things. There were issues and sometimes people can have differences of opinion and that’s why we have a legal system to turn to. One has nothing to do with the other, the way I see it.”
Ewing said he had been chosen as the new executive director before McLaughlin suddenly resigned in 2011 after a Globe story spotlighted the beginnings of his misdeeds at the CHA.
After several public hearings and an executive director search in anticipation of McLaughlin’s regular retirement, Ewing got the vote of the board. His contract was to be ratified at a regular meeting the day after McLaughlin resigned.
However, with the sudden resignation of McLaughlin, the Board agreed to quickly make Ewing the interim director that very night.
The contract that came with that appointment is what struck up some controversy when the new Board took over in 2012 and rebuilding efforts began.