METHUEN — Housing Director Ken Martin sat beside the five-member Methuen Housing Authority board Tuesday night with an audience of supporters looking on.
Noticeably absent from the monthly meeting at 24 Mystic St. were his critics.
Mayor Stephen Zanni, City Councilors Tom Ciulla and Sean Fountain, state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and union representative Michael Gagliardi have publicly denounced Martin's dual director jobs, his combined $184,057 annual salary and favorable employment contracts in recent weeks.
Their absence Tuesday did not go unnoticed by Housing Commissioner Kathleen Mulligan.
"We're all right here," said Mulligan. "I'm very, very surprised that they didn't come to this meeting."
Martin, 59, of Dracut, has directed both the Methuen and Ayer housing authorities for the last 15 years and is the highest paid local housing director in Massachusetts.
About 25 people — mostly elderly public housing residents — attended Tuesday's meeting to support Martin. He makes $129,734 as full-time director in Methuen and $54,323 as part-time director in Ayer. In addition to managing about 1,100 public housing units, Martin has served on the Dracut Housing Authority board for more than 25 years and is currently its chairman.
Two weeks ago, Methuen City Councilors Ciulla and Fountain wrote a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick asking him to call on Martin to step down from two of his three positions.
And last week, Mayor Zanni questioned whether Martin is devoting enough time to Methuen. "It's important the person has one job, not two, not three," he said.
Mulligan said Fountain and Zanni were hypocritical to criticize Martin for holding multiple jobs. Mulligan said Fountain works as a firefighter, contractor and city councilor, while Zanni worked as a school teacher and city councilor before retiring as a teacher.
Fountain is a North Andover firefighter and has a second job with Northside Carting. Yesterday, Fountain said he hasn't worked for the trash disposal company in three months.
Fountain said he was never asked to appear at the meeting. He said he is willing to debate with the board but said the monthly meetings are "not the appropriate arena or venue."
Ciulla said yesterday there was no point in going to the meeting since the board members have already voiced support of Martin's salary and contract in Methuen.
"They're not going to do anything about it, so what's the sense?" said Ciulla. "It's a state issue at this point."
Zanni did not return calls.
Mulligan called Zanni the "new kid on the block," and criticized his recent hiring of campaign supporters William Buckley and Anne Randazzo for top jobs at City Hall.
Mulligan also said state Rep. Campbell "blind-sided" Martin with legislation seeking to bar housing directors from working more than one director job.
But yesterday, Campbell, D-Methuen, said she sent a letter to Martin and board members looking for feedback before filing her bill and recently met with Martin to discuss her legislation.
"His input was well received," said Campbell.
The final target at the meeting was Gagliardi, business manager of Laborers International Local 175, which represents 750 employees in 32 local cities and towns.
In a Feb. 8 letter, Gagliardi called on Martin to donate a fifth of his salary to pay for neglected safety improvements at the Methuen Housing Authority, specifically handrails.
Gagliardi wrote another letter Tuesday to Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary at the state Department of Housing and Community Development asking him to examine and consider "defunding" Martin's employment contract with the Methuen Housing Authority.
At the meeting, housing commissioners questioned Gagliardi's motives.
"What is he doing with this and why?" asked Mulligan.
"Good question," said board member Scott Tisbert.
Tisbert is a member of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 3 and the labor representative on the five-member housing board.
Before Tisbert, Laborers International Local 175 President Eddy Pellerin served on the board. Former Mayor William Manzi appointed Tisbert several years ago, after Tisbert was recommended by the AFL-CIO-affiliated Greater Lowell Central Labor Council and Pellerin was not. In Methuen, the council recommends potential labor appointees to the mayor.
Yesterday, Gagliardi said he went to deliver his letter to Martin in person on Tuesday but was not permitted to see him.
"Any time the board would like me to appear before them to address Ken Martin's contract and what we see as an abuse of taxpayer money, I will appear," said Gagliardi.
Follow Brian Messenger on Twitter under the screen name Brian_Messenger. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.