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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Emails illustrate tense relationship between WHA board and Nere

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday September 6, 2011

By Robert Cyr
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — Hundreds of emails between the Wallingford Housing Authority’s director and members of its board of commissioners shows a pattern of tension and apprehension.

By any account, it’s been a contentious stretch at the housing authority for its director, Stephen Nere, and the board, which has seen about a half dozen configurations in the past 10 months. In fact, the five-member board is still without a tenant representative, who will be chosen in a first-of-its-kind election on Thursday.

In an enormous cache of emails between Nere and officials tied to the authority, Nere expresses concern more than once to the board’s latest chairman, Michael Misiti, that his job may be on the line in the face of requests for documentation.

“I am beyond baffled about your true agenda and how I can respond without being fired?” Nere writes in one message. Another request elicited this response from Nere: “I think your request borders on suggesting that some impropriety occurred. I am insulted,” he wrote in late July.

Neither Misiti nor Nere was available for comment Monday.

The emails, dating from April to August, were requested from unspecified housing officials by a local man who says he wants to remain anonymous. He would not say which housing officials had released the materials as part of a request.

The messages bring to light a very stressful time for Nere amid state, federal and local scrutiny of the authority and its policies and procedures, while he is inundated with requests for documents.

Earlier this year, Nere requested early retirement from the board, which it subsequently denied. Nere retracted the request via email, but it is unclear whether the retraction was submitted before or after the board’s decision.

Nere, 60, has worked for the authority for 26 years and earns about $100,000 a year. The WHA operates 317 low and moderate-income rental units and has an annual operating budget of about $1.5 million.

The board, through Misiti, has said it is going in a “new direction” after two recent high-profile changes in longstanding personnel at the authority. Two months ago the board replaced its attorney, Jim Laughlin, after 15 years, and on Friday it eliminated the maintenance supervisor position, which was held for 10 years by Paul Inserra.

At the end of July, Misiti asked Nere for a list of all authority staff, how long they’ve worked there, what their titles and duties are, how much they are paid, when and how much their last raises were and when their last evaluations occurred.

The board’s longest-serving member, at seven years, is 81year-old Thomas Mezzei, an outspoken former bank manager who has called for more strict policies and adherence to bylaws. The other members, all appointed by the Town Council this year, are Misiti, a building and grounds supervisor for Quinnipiac University; and local developers Robert Wiedenmann Jr. and Joseph DiNatale.

Mezzei said he felt the present membership of the board was “a bit aggressive,” but noted that previous members, including former Chairman William Fischer, put through measures such as a comprehensive forensic evaluation late last year and a forensic audit that is expected to be completed sometime next month.

“They’re doing a great job,” he said. “A lot of things were in the works but it took time to get things going. They’re holding him (Nere) to do his job. We’re there for the tenants.”

Three of the four commissioners were appointed this year, after the resignations of long timers Fredrick Monahan and Robert Prentice, who left just days apart. Shortly thereafter, Tenant Commissioner Debra Buckman resigned, just months into her five-year appointment.

Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos praised the new configuration of the board at last month’s council meeting and has publicly questioned the authority’s competence and its financial practices.

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