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Monday, April 9, 2012

Wallingford Housing Authority’s property manager tackles no-contract bill, waiting lists

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday March 15, 2012

By Dan Ivers
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2275

WALLINGFORD — The Wallingford Housing Authority will move to settle an outstanding bill with an architectural firm for work done last year without a written contract.

Maria DeMarco, whose property management firm, DeMarco Management Corp., took over supervision of the Housing Authority’s 317 units last month, updated the agency’s board of commissioners on her work at a meeting Wednesday night. Among the items discussed was $32,000 owed to Newington based J.A. Associates, which De-Marco said was related to repaving work at a WHA complex last year.

DeMarco said representatives of the company recently told her that the design work was performed without a written contract. The WHA’s former executive director, Stephen Nere, reportedly struck an informal agreement to pay the firm $600 a month for the work. There was no competitive bidding.

“I was told it was done at the last minute, all on a handshake. There was no contract, no specifications,” DeMarco said. “He said he was begged to do it quickly because the grant was going to be lost if these plans were not completed.”

DeMarco said that because of the lack of a contract, she was unsure whether the $32,000 bill accurately represented the work that was performed. However, she said that because J.A. Associates is suing another housing authority for back payments, she negotiated to pay a lump sum to settle the bill. The amount of that payment has yet to be determined.

Michael Misiti, chairman of the WHA board of commissioners, said a settlement would avoid a lengthy process of paying for the work at $600 a month.

“It would take over 50 months to pay him off at the rate we’re going,” he said.

DeMarco said she has found no clear policies for purchasing or hiring outside firms since taking over the agency’s operations.

Reached for comment Wednesday night, Nere said he hired J.A. Associates to design projects that would have been covered by a federal Small Cities grant. He admitted that the agency was “very pressed” to meet the deadline and he “may have asked them to do some additional work above and beyond their original contract.”

He denied that the arrangement with the firm was unusual or problematic. “There’s nothing of significance there,” he said.

Nere, who served as executive director for 26 years, retired last year amid persistent questions about the WHA’s accounting and management practices.

Later in Wednesday night’s meeting, DeMarco described her work to compile a waiting list for the Housing Authority, which she described as being “disjointed to say the least” before her arrival. She said many of the lists, such as those for elderly or handicapped housing, had not been updated in years, and she was working to create a master list that could be placed online and monitored by prospective tenants.

The agency has 15 units that will remain vacant until the waiting list problems can be resolved.

“I don’t want to offer an available unit to someone that isn’t next in line,” she said. “I’d love to fill all the units tomorrow, because I know people need them. But I have to follow the process.”

Nere has denied any problems with the waiting lists, saying they would have been detected by annual audits required by the federal government.