John Griffin
John Griffin [above] is "going to submit his letter for the end of October."

-- Brian Connor

Chair says executive director plans to retire 

Brian Connor, chairman of the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA), announced at the Oct. 20 board meeting that longtime executive director John Griffin told him that he plans to retire at the end of the month.

“I spoke to John Griffin, and he did inform me that he is going to retire as of the end of October. He’s going to submit his letter for the end of October.”

Wicked Local, the online version of The Arlington Advocate weekly newspaper, initially reported that Griffin was retiring “effective immediately.” The story was updated after the board meeting to say “effective at the end of the month.” Although Connor was widely quoted in the article, reporter Jesse Collings has not responded to YourArlington’s email regarding the story’s original sourcing. The newspaper does not regularly report about the authority.

In response to YourArlington request for the status on the retirement letter, Connor replied in an email that “there is nothing more to report on this. As I stated at prior meetings, John will retire as of Oct. 31, and has been on approved leave since April.”

Griffin, a former board commissioner who also served as executive director of the Bedford Housing Authority, was elected to replace director Franklin J. Hurd, who retired in 2007. The AHA is the town’s largest provider of public housing. The state agency was founded in 1948, and provides 699 rental units to more than one thousand low-income, disabled and elderly residents.

He was initially granted a three-month leave of absence in April for undisclosed reasons. In July, Connor said that Griffin has asked “for additional medical leave” and that the authority would take his ongoing absence “one day at a time.”

On the issue of compensation, Connor also wrote that Griffin “has ample paid time off to cover for his absence.” Griffin’s annual base salary for fiscal year ending September 2021, was $165,556 according to records on file with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

In addition to being appointed interim director in Griffin’s absence, Jack Nagle still holds his regular position as operations manager for the authority. However, Connor said that Griffin “should be able to stay and help on board as a consultant basis if Jack needs him.”

Executive search committee 

In anticipation of Griffin’s pending retirement letter, Connor said he was appointing a five-member executive search committee composed of himself, longtime commissioner Nick Mitropoulos, board attorney John Greco and board accountant Rick Conlon.

In an email, Connor said the fifth member is “Pam Hauser from Winslow Towers. Pam is a longstanding [housing authority resident]. She has served as tenant president for many years, and has attended almost all of our monthly board meetings. She brings a unique perspective in understanding the regulations and management needs of the AHA, as well as the needs of the tenants.”

Connor said he hopes that “we can get it done, and get somebody in position probably by the end of November . . . sometime in December” and that “we’ll have a pretty inclusive and very open board process to determine the next executive director.”

He also praised Griffin’s tenure at the helm of the authority saying, “he’s been a stable force here.”

More personnel updates 

Griffin’s possible retirement is part of a broader issue of personnel changes, including the pending retirement of Bob Cronin, director of maintenance, which was announced by Nagle at the July board meeting. At that time, an expanded job listing -- to director of maintenance and modernization -- was posted to the authority’s website with a closing date of Aug. 18, 2021.

During the public comment at the board meeting, Winslow Towers resident John Ward said that “the director of maintenance [said] that he was going to retire at the end of July. That’s been over 12 weeks ago. Nobody has given anybody any information about what’s happening with that.”

Connor replied that “the short answer is that he has not retired, yet. So, until he puts in his papers, he is still functioning as the director of maintenance.”

According to a tenant president, though, Cronin has not been present at the monthly maintenance meetings since July. These meetings are attended by maintenance and housing authority leadership, staff and tenant association presidents to address maintenance concerns and provide information on ongoing and upcoming projects.

Additionally, Allyson Melly, who has been the receptionist and housing clerk at the housing authority for more than five years, resigned her position Oct. 18, and the job is currently listed on the authority’s website.

The ongoing personnel issues at the authority in key leadership and staff positions come at a time when the town is considering an allocation of more than $2.5 million in American Recovery Act Plan (ARPA) money to address capital needs such as the aging windows at Menotomy Manor, the family-housing complex located in East Arlington.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said by email that, “I have had the opportunity to meet with Jack Nagle and offer him support from the town as appropriate as he serves in the interim capacity.  Jack appears to have a great approach for managing the many challenges facing the AHA and it has been a pleasure to work with him thus far.”

Interim director report 

Nagle told the board that the six-month-long Winslow Towers window-replacement (exterior only) and building-envelope repair project is nearing completion, and a “notice to proceed has been provided to Rustic Fire protection to start work on the fire pump” at the towers.

The Chestnut Manor balcony resurfacing project is underway; however, Nagle said that the board needs to vote to approve a $10,000 change order to the approved $129,000 cost, because “there were a lot more cracks than initially anticipated.”

Commissioner Gaar Talanian asked Nagle “how far off [was] the next bidder” from the increase submitted by the winning bidder, Homer Contracting. Nagle said that “I get what you're getting at. I can get you that information.” Talanian declined the offer, and moved to approve the change order. Homer Contracting is also the approved vendor for the $362,000 air-conditioning system at Winslow Towers. The board unanimously voted to approve the increase.

The board also approved the low bid of $191,414 from Mill City Construction for ADA-accessibility alterations to common bathrooms at Chestnut Manor and Winslow Towers.

The roof-replacement project at Cusack Terrace is underway, with contractor MDM Engineering Co. approved to perform the $365,000 work.

Nagle said a project manager from DHCD has been assigned to the Menotomy Manor window-replacement project, “so that should be moving along fairly quickly.” The estimated $4 million-to-$6 million project is being considered for $2.5 million town-allocated ARPA funding, and the authority has submitted a preliminary application for Community Preservation Act funds, too.

Regarding the window-replacement project, Chapdelaine wrote. “I feel confident that through town support, AHA staff support and AHA Board support, we can make that project a success and do so in a timely manner.”

Tenant president reports, general public 

Interest and participation in the housing authority’s Zoom-based board meetings remains strong, with Nagle reporting the following attendance figures: July, 37; August, 38; September, 43; October, 48. These numbers include the five commissioners, Greco and Nagle.

Hauser said that the Winslow fire alarms went off for 10 minutes on Oct. 20 before the fire department arrived. Deputy Chief Ryan Melly, of the Arlington Fire Department, responded to YourArlington by email reporting that “we received a call of alarms sounding at 4 Winslow St. at 12:02. Ladder 1 arrived on the scene at 12:03, and cleared the call at 12:08”

“The cause of the alarms was a painter accidentally activated one of the medical alerts switches in a unit. These switches are not connected to the fire-alarm system, and therefore do not get relayed to [the department]” unless someone calls it in.

Ellen Leigh presented the Cusack president’s report on behalf of Mike McGinty. She wondered why the residents of Cusack Terrace and Chestnut Manor did not receive onsite flu vaccines "Maybe next time, make sure that all the buildings get covered because we want to make it easy for people. It would be great if the same kind of problem doesn't get repeated. Connor said, “we’ll look into it.”

YourArlington reached out to Kristin Shah, director of the Council on Aging that provides “advocacy, support services, and programs to help” the town’s elder population.

By email, Shah said that “we held flu clinics at Drake Village and Winslow Towers in September. For residents of Chestnut Manor and Cusack Terrace, we provided free transportation and a clinic at town hall. We were able to accommodate everyone who called us. For residents who are homebound, our nurse, Joanne Sliney, is available to give them a flu vaccine in their homes.” Contact information for the CoA can be found here or by calling 781-316-3400.

Newly elected Menotomy Manor President Jen Hernandez thanked the board for their unanimous vote approving the election of the manor’s local tenant organization. She looked forward to the board approving the association’s bylaws at the next meeting.

Verizon, hate-crimes enforcement training 

In his interim report, Nagle also addressed the Verizon issue that YourArlington first reported on in September, saying meetings with the telecom “have been productive, and Verizon agreed to send out a letter to [authority] residents indicating that their service would not be terminated on Oct. 26.” As more information on the housing authority upgrading their copper lines to fiber optic becomes available, we will report on it.

On Nov. 9, from noon to 2 p.m., Connor and Nagle will attend the community portion of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Hate Crimes Enforcement Training at the invitation of Arlington Police Chief Julie Flaherty and Jillian Harvey, the director of diversity, equity & inclusion for the town. Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was robbed, beaten, tortured and left to die during a hate crime in 1998, will give a presentation, and there is a panel conversation with survivors of hate crimes.

Because of Covid restrictions, capacity is limited for the public portion of the training. Harvey wrote in an email that “Chief Flaherty and I developed an invitation list of community stakeholders that we felt would be appropriate and would benefit from this in-person opportunity. The panel conversation will be recorded, and will be made available to the whole community so everybody can view it.”

Covid vaccines, holiday plans 

Nagle said that the state doesn’t “expect the federal pharmacy participation program to be reinstated,” which provided vaccines for authority residents through the Town of Arlington and community health partners, such as local pharmacies. Instead, the authority is encouraging staff and residents to get their boosters, and “to work with community partners to get transportation.”

Connor suggested putting the tenant holiday parties on November’s agenda saying that if Covid restrictions prevent large, indoor gatherings, then the board could consider going back to last year’s plan, which included individual meals provided by D’Agostino’s, a family-owned deli in the Heights, and $10 Stop & Shop gift cards for Menotomy Manor residents.

Hauser said 90 percent of the caterers she and her treasurer called “are booked through December, already. It’s going to be very difficult to get a holiday party going.” Connor said he would reach out to D’Agostino’s and if people can’t have a party, “we can certainly put something together.”

Rental assistance 

The housing authority has been participating in a subsidized housing emergency rental-assistance program better known as SHERA. “This program allows residents to self-certify and provide authorization for the AHA to apply for rental assistance on behalf of eligible residents,” Nagle said. “We have received $17,000 in assistance for residents who have been approved so far, and we hope to continue these efforts.”

Resident services coordinator Tricia Morgan is working on several resident initiatives including asking residents to write letters to veterans and active-duty service members.

Final notes 

Connor addressed the technical issues with the chat feature during September’s meeting. “We’ve determined that you have to send a chat to the chat feature,” he said. “You won’t be able to send a message directly to one of us on the panel – it doesn’t let you do that. Simply send a chat message, and everybody on the panel will see that chat.” The new protocol was available during the general public section of the agenda.

After a minor correction to the last month’s minutes by Vice Chair Jo Anne Preston, the minutes were approved and the meeting was adjourned.

Watch the entire Oct. 20 broadcast on ACMi:

Sept. 8, 2021: Verizon outages put seniors, disabled at risk

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Melanie Gilbert was published Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.