MEDFORD - Medford Housing Authority executive director Robert Covelle promised Wednesday night to correct problems identified in a recent federal audit. But he denied allegations that he steered housing authority work to friends and relatives and retaliated against employees who disagreed with his practices.
“A lot of the issues are before Bob Covelle,’’ he said in an interview, referring to himself in the third person. “I’m taking [the audit] seriously, and I’m going to correct all the issues. We haven’t been audited in 30 years . . . If things were ongoing before I got here and everything is going smooth, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’’
Covelle spoke after a public meeting of the housing authority’s commissioners. The commissioners reviewed the authority’s official response to the audit by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but took no action against Covelle. The authority has said it will correct or address most of the identified deficiencies by June.
The audit called into question how the agency distributed nearly $1.4 million for work or services performed at authority-run property, some of which was performed without a contract. It asked the authority to justify millions more in rent payments to landlords for privately owned subsidized housing.
Since the audit surfaced publicly last week, other questions about Covelle’s hiring practices have brought new attention to his nearly three-year tenure. On Tuesday, the Globe reported that since he was hired in June 2009, Covelle has hired close friends and relatives to perform thousands of dollars worth of housing authority work, sometimes without proper contracts.
On the allegations of cronyism, Covelle denied he had practiced favoritism in hiring and awarding work. He said in the interview that he never hired his family and that the authority did not overpay for services.
He said that improvements to authority properties and maintenance efforts questioned by the HUD audit were executed in the best interest of the residents, and that unsigned contracts were the fault of an underling.
“We had the contracts; they were just not signed by the executive director,’’ Covelle said. “It was an oversight by someone underneath me who failed to give it to me to sign.’’
Wednesday night’s public meeting was packed by housing authority residents who defended Covelle, saying his leadership has improved the quality of life for many in the 2,700 units the agency oversees. Housing authority commissioner Eugene J. McGillicuddy said Covelle has excelled in overseeing the day-to-day operations of the authority, but he has struggled with administration.
“Nobody does a perfect job,’’ McGillicuddy said.
Matt Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.