Boston’s human services chief Felix G. Arroyo placed on paid leave
Felix G. Arroyo, the city’s chief of human services, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s press office confirmed Monday.
Walsh did not provide details about the investigation — such as the nature of the probe or when Arroyo was placed on leave — when asked about the matter after an appearance at an event at Faneuil Hall.
“No comment,’’ he said repeatedly and walked away.
A spokesman for the Boston Police Department said police were not aware of a criminal investigation.
Arroyo, 38, of Jamaica Plain, did not respond to repeated phone calls and text messages for comment on Sunday and Monday. However, a statement released to the Globe Monday evening on his behalf extolled Arroyo as a respected community leader and dedicated public servant who spent his career opening doors for those who are often overlooked.
“Chief Arroyo has yet to learn the specific allegations being lodged against him. He is eager to learn the specifics of these allegations and fully cooperate with the city,’’ said the statement by Colette A.M. Phillips of Colette Phillips Communications Inc. “Chief Arroyo looks forward to returning to work so that he can continue to serve the residents of Boston.”
Arroyo’s suspension, just weeks before the Sept. 26 mayoral preliminary election, could be an embarrassment for Walsh, who is running for reelection.
Arroyo was Walsh’s first Cabinet pick; Walsh named Arroyo chief of health and human services the weekend before he was sworn in as mayor in January 2014.
“Felix brings a wealth of knowledge and city of Boston experience to my administration,” Walsh said in a statement at the time. “Felix knows how to bring people together and work collaboratively. He values and understands the importance of directly addressing the needs of Boston’s most vulnerable residents, and he will have a huge impact on our city in this role.”
Arroyo said, at the time, that he was excited to be part of the administration.
In his Cabinet role, Arroyo oversees seven departments: Boston Centers for Youth & Families; Veterans Services; the Disabilities Commission; Fair Housing and Equity; Immigrant Advancement; the Public Health Commission; and Recovery Services.
Around City Hall, Arroyo is beloved by some among his staff, but described by others as immature and ill-prepared for his critical city role.
He is the first of Walsh’s cabinet chiefs — but the third top-ranking city official — to be placed on leave since the mayor took office. The city’s tourism chief, Kenneth Brissette, and the head of intergovernmental affairs, Timothy Sullivan, have been accused of pressuring the Boston Calling music festival to hire union workers and are facing federal extortion charges.
Arroyo, a former citywide councilor first elected in 2009, served as a cochairman of Walsh’s transition team.
He previously worked as an organizer and political director at the Service Employees International Union Local 615 and the New England field director for Healthcare for America Now, a grass-roots coalition.
After being eliminated in the 2013 preliminary mayoral vote, Arroyo was one of three candidates of color whose enthusiastic endorsements of Walsh helped propel him to his eventual victory over City Councilor John R. Connolly.
His father, Felix D. Arroyo, the Suffolk register of probate, has also been embroiled in controversy. The elder Arroyo was suspended with pay in February, and the state’s Trial Courts ordered an independent investigation of the registry earlier this year, following an internal shake-up that brought in a manager from the Essex court system to oversee management of the office.
Felix D. Arroyo has maintained that he was the victim of sabotage by entrenched white court employees who resented his efforts to diversify the staff.
His son’s predicament has sent shock waves throughout Boston and among people who see Felix G. Arroyo as one of the most prominent Puerto Rican leaders in Boston government. Some people interviewed by the Globe likened his scandal to his father’s, who is fighting to keep his job as register of probate.
“It’s hard. I feel bad. I feel sorry for Felix. I feel sorry for the Puerto Rican community. His father [is going through] the same thing,’’ said Antonio Molina, president of the Puerto Rican Veterans Association who said he has known Felix G. Arroyo since he was a boy.
Jaime Rodriguez, who said he is the younger Arroyo’s godfather, said many people have been calling him since the news broke, trying to make sense of what happened.
“I called [Felix] but he didn’t call me back,’’ Rodriguez said. “I called his father, but he said they don’t want to say anything. It’s very hard because he’s a nice guy. . . . He’s a straight shooter.”
Rodriguez said the news is particularly difficult in his community, which has struggled to get Latino representation in government.
“We don’t have too many people in these kinds of positions,’’ he said. “It’s difficult.”