UPDATE: Santos Missing From Work Since Sept. 8, Still Being Paid
The Natick Housing Authority has been granted until Sept. 26 to submit a plan to DHCD to turn around the organization. The state mandated executive director Ed Santos to complete the plan. Santos was not at the meeting.
The Natick Housing Authority Board of Commissioners met Wednesday night to discuss the progress of the plan to improve the organization's financial state. The Department of Housing and Community Development, which originally mandated NHA executive director Ed Santos submit the plan by Sept. 16, has extended the deadline to Sept. 26.
Santos did not attend the meeting and did not meet with the board in executive session prior to the public meeting as was indicated in the agenda. He also did not attend the Sept. 8 meeting. (UPDATE:) Attorney to the NHA, James Wood of Curley and Curley in Boston confirmed to Natick Patch that Santos has not returned to work since leaving early on Sept. 8 and is still being paid.
The board met with Wood during the executive session, but would not disclose further information about the discussion. Wood said the board met with him to discuss threatened litigation against the authority, but would not say who made the threat or what it is about.
The board will ask DHCD for one additional day to submit the plan, as they all were not available to meet again as a board before Sept. 26. If the plan is not submitted in time, there is a chance that the NHA will go into receivership and will be run by DHCD. Before they submit the plan, which is being worked on by assistant executive director Eileen Merritt, the board will approve a salary for a new maintenance director and review the corrective action plan.
According to Merritt, the weakest parts of the plan at this stage are that it needs more details of what it will cost to turn over empty units and what maintenance needs to be completed for each. At Wednesday's meeting the board discussed hiring a consultant familiar with DHCD to help finish the plan by the deadline. The individuals, according to Merritt, said they could give the NHA a low price, although she said she does not yet have an exact number. Board member David Parish spoke in support of the assistance, saying "we need help beyond what we have."
The resignation of maintenance director Bill Barnicle will become official on Sept. 30, after 24 years on the job. Merritt did not disclose an estimated salary for a new maintenance director, but said it would fall between $60,000 and $80,000 per year. The board said they would rely on a suggested salary from DHCD. The authority will also look to hire two part-time maintenance workers that will work less than 18 hours each week and will not receive benefits.
Currently, the Natick Housing Authority is $480,000 in debt and has been spending money it does not have for four years, according to private fee accountant Jill Fenton, who periodically examines the authority's finances.
Part of the financial problem is that many tenants are unhappy with the condition of their apartments and are moving out and that the authority is struggling to repair and turn over old apartments to new tenants.
Residents have complained about unsafe and undesirable conditions in their units and on the common grounds.
Recently, Santos has blamed the maintenance staff for the conditions. At the Sept. 8 meeting, the board was given a stack of 54 letters in support of the maintenance staff and the work they have done.
Check back with Natick Patch for updates as they unfold.