standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — The Westerly Housing Authority Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to end its employment agreement with Carlos Lopez, who had served as the agency's executive director for close to two years.

By a 5-0 vote the board terminated Lopez without cause. The vote became necessary because Lopez declined to accept a severance package the board offered him on July 9, when it placed him on administrative leave without pay.

Lopez, who attended the meeting Tuesday, declined to comment or answer questions for this article. Terms of the severance package offered to Lopez have not been made public.

The board also agreed by unanimous vote on Tuesday to conduct its own search for a new executive director rather than hiring a firm to conduct the search. It settled on the language of an advertisement that will be used to solicit candidates for the job.

"If we don't get a good response we can always go to a national company," said Gary Murano, board chairman.

The board also agreed to allow Murano and its attorney, George Comolli, to continue speaking with Michael C. McLoughlin to determine if he could provide services on an interim basis until a permanent executive director is hired to fill the vacancy. McLoughin is executive director of the Narragansett Housing Authority. Comolli said the board would need to hold a special meeting before McLoughlin is formally hired.

Murano said he received offers from other potential interim directors ranging from $89 per hour to $145 per hour. He said McLoughlin had not yet discussed his potential fee but had asked him to ask the board of it was interested in considering him.

Commissioner Brian Lumnah asked the board to consider hiring Michael J. Thomas, a Pawcatuck resident, as interim director, and distributed a letter from Thomas and his résumé. In the letter Thomas, a longtime Connecticut state trooper, stated his interest in the full-time permanent position.

Lumnah said Thomas could work 40 hours per week as interim and communicate with McLoughlin to learn about requirements imposed on the authority by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the authority's primary funding source.

Commissioner Lauren Matarese said she was hesitant to have three people managing the authority.

Commissioner Michael Gulluscio said the board should focus, initially, on finding an interim director and then conduct a search for a permanent director.

Lumnah pushed back saying, "I think we're going down an avenue we don't really need to go down but if the board wants to start hiring high-priced help, so be it."

Comolli has been managing some of the Westerly Housing Authority's operations since Lopez was put on leave but needs assistance with aspects of the operation that are dictated by HUD, Murano said.

The board also agreed to study a proposed public records policy based on guidelines developed by state Attorney General Peter F. Neronha's office. The board tabled action on the policy, which was recommended by Comolli, pending further consideration.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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