WOONSOCKET – Tensions between the newly elected chairman of the Woonsocket Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and the agency’s employees have continued to simmer, with the agency launching an investigation into an alleged threatening email sent by an employee earlier this year.
WHA Assistant Security Director Kevin Marcoux has been accused of sending a threatening email to Chairman Michael Houle, a former Woonsocket police chief named to the board in April. In a letter obtained by The Valley Breeze under a Freedom of Information Act request, Marcoux’s union representative denied the threat and requested that WHA Executive Director Robert Moreau cease his investigation immediately.
“It is quite clear to the union that the only threat made in this situation has come from the chairman overstepping his position and threatening to take away my member’s ability to provide for his family based solely on an unremarkable and professionally worded email,” Teamsters Local 251 Business Agent Nicholas Williams wrote to Moreau on Sept. 10.
In the letter, Williams describes the circumstances leading up to Marcoux’s email to Houle in late May. Earlier in the month, he claimed, Houle had gone to the Woonsocket Police Department to ask about previous accidents with WHA vehicles. During that visit, he said, Houle accused Marcoux of getting in an accident in his WHA vehicle, failing to report it and trying to hide the vehicle in Lincoln. It was after news of the accusation made its way back to Marcoux, he said, that Marcoux sent the email on May 28.
“If you need accurate information about my current employment status, you can ask me directly instead of spreading false information to Director Moreau,” the letter quotes Marcoux as saying in the email. “This will be dealt with accordingly.”
According to the letter, Houle interpreted the words “dealt with accordingly” as a threat and asked Moreau to investigate the matter. The letter cites an article of the agency’s policies allowing discharge of an employee for “threatening or intimidating” behavior.
Williams denied that Marcoux was ever in an accident with his WHA vehicle, calling Houle’s accusation a “fabricated event.”
In an email to The Valley Breeze this week, Houle said the letter involves a personnel matter that the Board of Commissioners is not in a position to address.
“The matter is still under review by Bob Moreau and his determination yet reached,” he wrote. “When completed I intended on addressing this matter contrary to what you have received.”
Though personnel matters are regularly discussed in closed sessions of municipal boards, the letter was formally accepted during an open portion of the Board of Commissioners meeting last Thursday, Sept. 16, at the union’s request. Williams said the union was requesting the matter be made public “in an attempt to repair Assistant Director Marcoux’s reputation and clear his name of the accusations made by Chairman Houle.”
Houle raised several concerns with the public nature of the letter’s appearance during the meeting last Thursday, telling board members he didn’t think it was appropriate to discuss an ongoing investigation in a public forum. Houle said he welcomed criticism of his own actions but warned that by allowing the letter to be introduced publicly, the board was opening themselves up to becoming a judge on every grievance that came before the WHA.
“I think the ability to voice all that information that’s in that document is wrong. This is not the arena to do this,” he said.
Vice Chairman Steven D’Agostino agreed, adding he also thought personnel matters should be discussed in closed session.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for this board to air dirty laundry, so to speak,” he said.
The board’s legal counsel, former Solicitor Michael Marcello, said the employee had the right to request the matter be dealt with publicly.
“The employee did choose that right to put it in open session. It’s his right, you don’t have the right to demand that it’s in closed session,” he said.
Marcello also cautioned board members against getting too closely involved with any investigation or suggesting certain disciplinary measures to the executive director.
“The letter as I read it makes some allegations of some things that were going on, so I just want to make that very clear,” he said.
The board declined to discuss the letter further, with D’Agostino saying they would wait for Moreau to finish his investigation. Moreau told The Breeze he was still investigating the matter and expected to have a conclusion this week. On the topic of the alleged vehicle accident, he said he had not found any evidence that it had happened.
“There is no evidence of that ever taking place,” he said.
Houle has clashed with several of the agency’s employees since his election as chairman in May. During the May 20 meeting, he questioned Moreau and other employees about various elements of WHA administration, including a security contract and the method for recording meetings. His wife, a WHA employee, resigned her position as vice president of AFSCME Local #1793 in June after U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expressed concerns about a possible conflict of interest. HUD regional Public Housing Director Robert Cwieka later said there was no conflict of interest.