NOTHING SHORT of placing the Chelsea Housing Authority into state receivership will contain the scandal enveloping the agency. The sooner such a receiver is in place, the better for public housing tenants and for all of Chelsea, a city where a history of corruption throws a bigger shadow than the Tobin Bridge.
Former housing director Michael E. McLaughlin resigned earlier this month, shortly after the Globe reported that he had been concealing much of his $360,000 annual salary from government agencies. The FBI is now poring through the housing authority’s records. The agency’s accountant has admitted that he shredded documents and helped McLaughlin remove boxes of materials from the office on the eve of the shadowy director’s resignation. Governor Patrick had demanded the resignation of the public housing authority’s board of directors. But most of its members didn’t leave until installing one of McLaughlin’s deputies - Albert Ewing - in the post with a five-year contract that provides a salary well in excess of the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s guidelines.
Such brazenness may defy belief, and it certainly calls to mind the old days of stealthy Chelsea, where four consecutive mayors had been implicated in federal probes of wrongdoing. Corruption in the city’s hiring, construction contracts, and police force were so great as to plunge the nearly bankrupt city into state receivership in 1991. Chelsea finally seemed to get its bearings in 1995 under a new city charter. But McLaughlin still managed to worm his way into the housing authority in 2000, despite warnings from a former city manager.
One way to restore integrity to the housing authority is through the appointment of a new five-member board. But identifying and appointing qualified candidates, who must reside in Chelsea, could drag on for weeks or even months. And the taint might remain. Neither Governor Patrick’s nor Chelsea city manager Jay Ash’s selections to the board worked out well in the last round.
It’s cleaner for state housing officials to petition a Superior Court judge to appoint a receiver for Chelsea’s housing authority on an emergency basis. A receiver with strong fiscal management skills and no current ties to Chelsea could be trusted to restore order and uncover any bad faith on the part of the former board - a finding that may be necessary to void the unacceptable contract of McLaughlin’s successor.
Such brazenness may defy belief, and it certainly calls to mind past corruption scandals.
Receivership is, by nature, temporary. But it’s necessary now to get control of the authority’s finances - and fast.