A new state audit shows that the Winchester housing director, who also kept a full-time law practice, filed 16 conflicting time cards showing him in court when he claimed to be at the authority, undermining his insistence that he juggled two careers simply by working “nights and weekends.”
Joseph M. Lally, 59, abruptly resigned his $73,000-a-year housing authority position after 11 years on the job on Oct. 5, days before publication of a Globe story that featured Lally prominently as an example of housing authority executive directors who face little accountability for their work. Lally had claimed that he did the housing job properly by working an average of almost 70 hours a week.
But state Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office found numerous discrepancies when auditors compared the handwritten time cards Lally used to record his hours as the full-time town housing director in 2010 and 2011 with the hours he claimed when seeking payments from a state agency that provides legal representation for poor clients.
“It would be difficult” for Lally to appear in court on 16 different occasions when simultaneously he was “logged in at the authority,” according to a draft of the report which was obtained by the Globe. The report concludes that Lally’s work as a lawyer “is not in the best interest of the Authority because the executive director should be conducting housing authority business during the Authority’s normal business hours.”
The audit also raised serious questions about how well Winchester public housing is managed, finding apartments that contained numerous violations of the state sanitary code, from peeling paint to rubbish in the yards. The Winchester agency manages the housing for 242 elderly and low-income families and individuals.
Lally did not return calls.
Lally is at least the third Massachusetts housing director to step down amid questions about his integrity in the last year, following Michael E. McLaughlin of Chelsea and Robert Covelle of Medford, both of whom were accused of abusing their positions to help themselves and their friends.
Lally also faces an investigation by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the agency that pays him and other lawyers $50 an hour to represent poor people in criminal and some civil cases. The agency recently cut Lally off from further payment and barred him from new assignments after its own review showed he was claiming to be in court and at the housing office at the same time.
“We were successful . . . in conjunction with the State Auditor, in identifying an attorney whose billing demanded scrutiny,’’ said William E. Shay, director of audits at the public defenders’ office. “We take our oversight responsibility of taxpayers’ moneys very seriously.’’
Lally’s pension, which he applied for at Winchester town hall Oct. 12, may also be in jeopardy. Based on his housing authority salary and years of service, Lally qualifies for a pension of more than $55,000 a year, according to a Globe estimate. However, Thomas F. Gibson, a lawyer for the Winchester Retirement Board, said that, “in view of the recent news coverage [of Lally’s work hours], his application is under review.”
The 11-page state audit — dated Oct. 23 but written before Lally’s sudden resignation — is addressed to Laura Glynn, chair of the five-member Winchester Housing Authority Board of Commission. The board has 10 days to respond to the draft.
Glynn did not return e-mail and phone messages, but when the Globe first asked her about his ability to do two jobs at once, she expressed support for him: “He’s a hard worker. I really don’t care what he does in his off hours so long as” the agency is well-run.
A spokesman for the auditor’s office declined to comment because the audit is not final.
The report, part of the auditor’s normal oversight of housing authorities, said that by Lally’s own accounting, he worked almost constantly, averaging nearly 70 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, during 2010 and 2011. The report said that on 60 occasions in that period Lally claimed to have worked 15 hours or more in a day between his two jobs. In addition to his director’s salary, Lally was paid about $87,000 a year for his legal work.
The report found that Lally was absent about one quarter of the time during the housing agency’s posted hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but some tenants said it was much more than that.
Lally was “an absentee manager — he was here only about 20 hours a week,” said one tenant who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. “If you had a complaint about something, it was always, ‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll get to it.’ But things didn’t always get done.”
The auditor’s office recommended that the board of commissioners review Lally’s performance, require the executive director to punch a time clock to record his hours as the agency’s other three employees do, and require that the director be present during business hours.
The report challenges Glynn’s contention that the housing authority was well run under Lally, too. In three of the eight rental units that auditors inspected, they found “10 instances of noncompliance with the state sanitary code . . . such as peeling paint, ceiling water stains, roof deterioration, exterior siding falling off, walkways in disrepair, collapsing fence, rubbish and debris in yard, and disintegrated caulking in sink.”
The auditor also faulted Winchester Housing Authority for management problems, including failing to keep enough reserve funds, failing to keep an inventory of furniture and equipment; and making an accounting mistake that cost the authority $4,772 in state funds.
In an interview for the recent Globe story, Lally conceded his schedule was exhausting, but insisted he was “fulfilling my obligations” to both the housing agency and his clients.
Sean Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.