Moreau appointed Woonsocket Housing Authority executive director

Moreau appointed Woonsocket Housing Authority executive director

Former director resigns following investigation

WOONSOCKET – After months of uncertainty and a lengthy internal investigation, the Woonsocket Housing Authority Board of Commissioners appointed Robert Moreau as the agency’s new executive director, confirming the appointment during a board meeting last week.

Moreau has served as interim executive director since last June, when former Executive Director Christine O’Connor was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. According to Board of Commissioners Chairman Marc Dubois, O’Connor resigned her position effective Dec. 31. Dubois did not specify the allegations against O’Connor but said the terms of her resignation did not include pay or benefits.

“There was a nondisclosure agreement on both sides. I can tell you that she resigned as a result of differences with the Woonsocket Housing Authority,” he said.

Moreau, a retired Woonsocket police officer, has worked for the agency since 2009 and previously served as director of security and facilities, a title amounting to an assistant director’s position. He told The Breeze he planned to meet with all agency employees earlier this week to discuss staffing and other needs and go over his vision for the agency’s future.

“I don’t want to run this agency as one person, because I want it to be run as a team and a group effort. From the most senior person to the least senior person, I want them to have a say in the road that the Housing Authority moves forward,” he said.

His appointment, confirmed by a 6-1 vote, was applauded by several dozen agency employees who turned out for the brief meeting at the agency’s Social Street headquarters last Thursday, Jan. 31. According to Moreau, the ongoing investigation has had an impact on employee morale, as the agency has remained “on a standby” over the past several months.

“It was kind of an uncertainty in the future for a little while, so I just want to bring the employees back together as a group and just give them the support,” he said.

Only Steven D’Agostino, a recent appointment to the Board of Commissioners, voted against the appointment. As D’Agostino stated during the meeting, he had no objection to Moreau’s appointment but would have preferred a two-year rather than a three-year contract. The approved three-year contract includes a $122,000 annual salary.

It’s not the first time the Housing Authority has undergone an abrupt change in leadership. In December of 2013, former Executive Director Robert Kulik was suspended over charges of sexual harassment, later taking a leave of absence in 2014 while the Board of Commissioners negotiated a severance package that included approximately $39,000 in payouts and a 2008 Ford Edge SUV with around 50,000 miles.

The following year, Kulik’s replacement, Patrick Morganelli, was placed on paid administrative leave and later left the Housing Authority for unknown reasons.

The agency has also faced a number of personnel issues. In 2016, a housing data clerk was arrested and charged with forgery and embezzlement after it was discovered she had signed several rent checks over to her name. That same year, The Breeze received an anonymous letter signed “WHA Employees” alleging the agency had been “in turmoil and not properly functioning” for the previous two years.

Asked if he thinks Moreau will be able to improve the agency’s image after the incidents of the past several years, Dubois said he expects a change for the positive.

“I’ve already seen morale improve greatly since Bob took over,” he said. “As you saw by the show of force this evening, I think every employee in this building was down here to support him.”

Moreau also acknowledged the erosion of public trust in the agency and said he believes his roots in the city, including his involvement with several nonprofit organizations, will help to strengthen its relationship with the community.

Moreau, a 1981 graduate of Woonsocket High School and former City Council president, is a member of the Rotary Club and volunteers as a boxing coach at the Boys & Girls Club.

“I think that with my roots of being embedded in Woonsocket, it’s going to be a real asset to the Housing Authority to work with partnerships with the city of Woonsocket (and) with other nonprofit agencies,” he said. “I think that that’s going to be an asset to me and the Housing Authority to move it in a positive direction.”

Moreau also thanked the Board of Commissioners and employees of the Woonsocket Housing Authority and noted he was proud to follow in the footsteps of his father-in-law, the late Ernest Lafond, who served as executive director from 1983 to 1994.

While the appointment resolves a months-long internal matter, the Housing Authority is still awaiting the results of a federal audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that began shortly after O’Connor was placed on leave. According to Moreau, the audit had not yet concluded when the department was closed due to the federal shutdown, and he was recently notified that federal workers plan to resume the audit when they are once again approved to travel. The federal audit, he said, is not related to the internal investigation.

“As far as we were told on the day we met them in this room, they said basically that housing authorities get audited every so many years and our number just came up, and they hadn’t been here in – I forget how many years – 10 years, or a little bit more than 10 years,” he said.