Press-Republican

May 15, 2013

Cantwell calls departure 'very civil'

By JOE LoTEMPLIO and LOIS CLERMONT
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Former Plattsburgh Housing Authority Executive Director Lori Cantwell says her recent departure from that position was “very civil.”

Questions still remain about her dismissal, but officials are not talking.

“We can’t say anything right now; it’s part of the process,” Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Clayton Morris said Tuesday.

Cantwell, 48, was asked to leave Housing Authority offices at 4817 South Catherine St. on Friday, May 3, when it was determined she would no longer be director.

Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Shirley O’Connell confirmed for the Press-Republican on Monday that Cantwell is no longer in charge of the agency but wouldn’t say anything else about the situation.

SURPRISED

Police Chief Desmond Racicot said Tuesday that the City Police officer assigned to the Housing Authority, Carman Rotella, was asked by Assistant Executive Director Mark Hamilton to attend the May 3 Housing Authority Board meeting because of a “personnel issue.”

At that meeting, it was determined that Cantwell would be replaced.

As to reports that she received an actual police escort from the building, Cantwell said Tuesday that “by contrast, my exit from the employer was very civil.”

Racicot said Cantwell has not been charged with anything nor is there any investigation.

“We (City Police) have no idea what is going on over there,” he said. “We were only told that she was asked to leave the premises.”

Rotella watched as Cantwell carried boxes from her office to her car and as she departed the property, Racicot said.

Cantwell said Tuesday in an email: “Boards and CEOs often have responsible and respectable differences of opinion regarding how an organization should run, which are not necessarily negative reflections on anyone but merely represent a difference of opinion or philosophy. That is simply what occurred here.”

SALARY UPPED

Hamilton, who is Morris’s son-in-law, is now running the program on an interim basis.

Cantwell took the job in January 2012, replacing Pat Lucia, who retired after serving as executive director for 23 years.

Cantwell’s annual salary was $123,000 at the time of hiring. Due to longevity considerations, it was raised to about $154,000 last fall, the Press-Republican has learned.

Morris wouldn’t confirm that, and O’Connell didn’t return calls. The Press-Republican filed a Freedom of Information Law request Tuesday seeking the salary. The Housing Authority responded that the figure would be provided by June 3, noting that additional time is needed to locate the records.

Cantwell had served as the Housing Authority’s attorney for 14 years before being selected for the head job by the Board of Commissioners.

The authority provides housing for people who are income eligible. It has more than 800 units in Plattsburgh for families and seniors and employs 30 to 35 people.

LOCAL DECISIONS

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is operated by the local Board of Commissioners.

HUD spokesman Adam Glantz said the local board is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Housing Authority and that he had no information regarding Cantwell’s dismissal.

“The hiring and firing of an executive director is not in our purview,” he said.

“Additionally, HUD does not set salary levels or know of the salaries of executive directors. In this particular case, the Board of Commissioners recently informed the HUD Buffalo Office that the executive director of the Plattsburgh PHA was being removed from her position without citing its reasons.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com