Search This Blog

Monday, November 21, 2011

WHA board fires Nere, offers him $130,000

As published in the Record Journal, Saturday November 19, 2011

By Robert Cyr

(203) 317-2224

— The Wallingford Housing Authority board of commissioners voted Friday at a special meeting to fire longtime Executive Director Stephen Nere and offer him a separation package of $130,000. Board Chairman Michael Misiti said the decision was made to avoid costly legal proceedings to remove Nere.

Nere and the Housing Authority have been immersed in controversy for more than a year amid allegations of mismanagement, with scrutiny from local, state and federal officials. Nere, 60, has been director for 26 years and earns about $100,000 a year. His contract is set to expire next year.

The board rejected two offers from Nere earlier this year to have the Housing Authority buy out the remainder of his contract. Misiti said the draft report of a recent forensic audit had nothing to do with Friday’s decision. The draft report found large holes in financial records at the authority and auditors were unable to complete their investigation.

“After a lot of meetings with lawyers, this was the best solution for the Housing Authority,” Misiti said. He added that attempting to fire Nere without a severance package could have led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees if Nere decided to fight termination.

Nere has 21 days to sign the resolution, Misiti said.

Nere said he was “surprised yet pleased” when the board asked him “out of the clear blue” last week if he would work on a separation agreement. He said he was more concerned now with improving his poor physical health.

“I’d say that this is something the board and I have reached a mutual accord on,” he said. “I’ve had some serious health issues, and I’m going to try to move forward with making myself feeling better. I’m way too young to retire, and I think it’s really sad that I have to leave my position now. I sincerely hope that things go well for the
authority and its tenants. I’m sure I’ll look for something else.”

Nere said the terms of the severance package were reached between his lawyer and attorneys for the Housing Authority. His last day will be Dec. 2.

Board member Thomas Mezzei, who cast the only vote against the resolution, suggested his own language for Nere’s separation agreement and proposed $75,000 as a severance package. The motion was not seconded.

“I don’t think he should get a dime,” he said. “But if we’re going to have to give him something, it should have been a lot less than what we voted on.”

A separate resolution at the meeting approved settling a lawsuit with Nere out of court, paying him $15,000 to withdraw the claim. The suit, brought by Nere last year against
Mezzei and board members Patricia Hogan and former Chairman William Fischer, alleged that they violated his contact when they disallowed him use of a Housing Authority vehicle to travel between work and his home in Guilford. While the board has since reinstated the vehicle privilege, Nere claimed the loss of the vehicle cost him thousands of dollars in travel expenses.

Town Councilors Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, and Craig Fishbein, a Republican, who have been investigating allegations of mismanagement at the authority for more than a year, attended the meeting.

Economopoulos, who recently announced his intention to run for mayor, has called publicly for Nere’s resignation and called the resolutions “sad.”

“It is the Town Council and (housing) commissioners of the past that let it get to this level,” he said.

Fishbein was recently elected to a second term on the council and said he had spent about half of his time in his two years as a councilor looking into issues at the Housing Authority. “I think it looks like a proper resolution to a long battle between a lot of different people,” he said.

The cost of the settlement and the severance package will be covered by the roughly $200,000 remaining in the “Ridgeland” account, Misiti said. In 2003, the authority sold its Ridgeland housing units to a New Haven based company for $1.2 million.

The authority operates 317 low- to moderate income and senior housing on an annual budget of about $1.5 million.

No comments:

Post a Comment