Three consultants and a new on-staff procurement officer are a few of the ways the Medford Housing Authority plans to address mismanagement of millions in federal funds .
Medford Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Covelle outlined a 21-point action plan in response to a during the housing authority's board of commissioners meeting Wednesday. Despite issues raised in the audit, Covelle said the authority was in good shape financially -- including a $6 million surplus -- and the issues would not impact residents.
"We’re a high performer," Covelle said. "Our properties look great, and our vacancies are minimal."
The authority and Covelle have been under scrutiny since the audit performed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that in 2010 and 2011 the authority handed out some construction projects without putting them out to bid, and didn't properly review rent prices to ensure it was paying competitive rates to landlords, among other findings.
The audit report called for the authority to review $1.3 million in procurement projects along with $7.8 million in expenditures of federal funds for assisted rent and a voucher program.
It also calls for the authority to pay back over $36,000 in rent the authority overpaid to landlords using federal money.
The authority is expected provide an action plan by April 30 that will address issues raised in the audit.
Covelle's plan includes requiring staff to take training and classes, implementing new policy, hiring a procurement officer, bringing in a consultant for section 8 housing policy, another for rent reasonableness, and a third to perform cost estimates on procurement projects cited in the audit.
"The MHA is complying with the HUD request to develop a comprehensive action plan," Covelle said.
, and . But the authority's section 8 director Sam Pirri said Wednesday that the problems found in the audit pre-dated Covelle's hiring.
"Unfortunately, Bob's taking the bad rap for things that have been done here for the last umpteen years," he said.
Several residents who turned out for the commission meeting spoke in support of Covelle, pointing to high scores on federal inspection report cards and improved quality of life since he took over the job.
An accounting counsultant hired by the authority hired by the authority downplayed the findings of the audit. The audit was not unusual to other audits he's seen, Richard Fenton said.
"I’m really here to say this is not so unusual," he said.
Still, the audit's findings have brought an unwanted kind of attention to the Housing authority's commissioners, who said Wednesday they were unaware of the issues raised in the audit because they were related to day-to-day activity.
"It's totally humiliating and embarrasing to everyone in this room," said commissioner Sylviajean Baumeister.
Commissioner Michael Luongo expressed frustration over having not discussed the audit during earlier commission meetings. He said he had previously wanted to bring it up, but Covelle put it off.
"I’ve been wanting to discuss this audit for weeks," Luongo said, "and there’s always been obstacles…We just want answers."
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misidentified housing authority section 8 supervisor Sam Pirri as Sam Kerry.