By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — Ken Martin has stepped down as director of the Methuen Housing Authority, though he continues on in an advisory role housing commissioners say he is performing for free.
Martin announced his retirement in April after 17 years in Methuen and nearly four decades total working in public housing. The Board of Commissioners appointed Michelle Bibeau, Martin’s executive assistant and director of management, as acting director.
At the same time, members of the housing authority’s maintenance crew have moved to organize with Massachusetts Building Trades Council Laborers Local 175. An official from the local, which also represents Methuen’s public works employees, said it has “100 percent” support from the staff and wants the authority to recognize the union.
“He’s helping out. She needs help,” Housing Authority commission chairman Arthur Broadhurst said of Martin. “It’s unpaid. He’s doing little things, nothing major. Anytime there’s a transition from one head to another, there are things you need to go over.”
Martin is not in the office every day and usually assists over the phone, Broadhurst said.
No search has started for a permanent successor, though commissioners said they intend to hire a consultant to draw up a job description, conduct a search, and narrow candidates down to a handful for the board to eventually review and vote on.
Broadhurst said commissioners had some questions for the consultant, Leo Dauwer, but he expected the board to approve him at the commission meeting tomorrow night.
Estimates varied for the length of time a search could take, with Broadhurst saying it could take several months while member Scott Tisbert saying it could take up to a year.
“It’s not something you can rush through. You want to find the right person,” Tisbert said. “They have to have the certifications. It’s not an easy thing to find.”
Broadhurst said the search would cost between $3,000 and $5,000. Dauwer was recommended by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, he said, and could train a candidate if needed.
Bibeau did not return an email Friday seeking comment. Martin did not return a phone message.
Michael Gagliardi, business manger for Local 175, said he filed paperwork with the state Labor Relations Board to have the employees recognized as a collective bargaining unit.
“We have 100 percent support of the maintenance crew to organize and be part of the union,” he said.
The employees decided to unionize now because they felt intimidated by Martin. “They feel like they were threatened and coerced before,” Gagliardi said. “They felt there would be repercussions from the prior director.”
According to the Housing Authority, there are seven maintenance employees and one superintendent. Gagliardi said the superintendent, Michael Farelli, would not be included in the union.
Martin, 62, retired last month from the Methuen Housing Authority after 17 years there, six years as director of public works in Methuen and 15 years with the Lowell Housing Authority.
He concurrently served for 32 years as director of the Ayer Housing Authority, a part-time position.
Because Martin worked two jobs at once where he earned about $185,000 a year, he stands to collect nearly $150,000 a year in retirement.
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