LOWELL -- Several months after starting work in Lowell, City Manager Bernie Lynch declined to reappoint Robert McMahon, the labor representative on the Lowell Housing Authority board of commissioners.

McMahon, who was willing to go against the grain while on the LHA board, is seeking to again serve on the five-member board overseeing the embattled agency.

McMahon, 77, mailed his letter of interest and his resume to Jan. 7, hours before Lynch announced his planned resignation. He is seeking the seat that had been filled by Chairman Michael Zaim, who was unlikely to be reappointed and recently resigned.

"I would like to be part of a board where priority number one is to make sure tenants have clean, safe and affordable housing," McMahon said Wednesday.

Robert McMahon
Robert McMahon

"I have the time and the energy, and I want to see the Lowell Housing Authority do well because that would benefit the whole city. I know I could do a good job."

McMahon, who served from 2001 to 2006 and was its chairman for a time, said he had a track record of supporting projects to improve the lives of tenants.

He pointed to renovation work completed at the Father Norton, Francis Gatehouse and Dewey Archambault developments during his time as a commissioner.

McMahon said one of his proudest votes was to support the demolition of the housing at Julian Steele, a place he once lived, so new homes could be built.

The new community of homes, known as River's Edge on the Concord, has been a real benefit to the neighborhood and the tenants who were relocated, McMahon said.

McMahon also acknowledged he has read about the problems at the LHA in recent years, such as a failure to bid out construction projects or secure occupancy permits before moving tenants into new units.

The issues have prompted several government investigations, including an audit from a federal inspector general questioning $11 million in LHA spending and a consent decree with the state Attorney General in which the LHA admitted it violated public bidding laws.

As a commissioner, McMahon said he would push for the LHA to publicly bid construction work, not split projects into smaller components to avoid the bid laws, and comply with local permitting and inspection requirements.

"If you follow the rules and regulations, you will not have a problem," said McMahon, who is retired and worked 27 years in sales for Charles Gilman & Sons, a liquor distributor. He is also a U.S. Army veteran.

During his time on the board, McMahon was not afraid to take a different stance on his colleagues on some hot-button issues.

McMahon was the lone vote against a measure that gave LHA Executive Director Gary Wallace sole discretion on all hirings and promotions.

In 2003, he was the sole vote against a five-year contract for Wallace that included a so-called "evergreen" clause in which the contract would automatically roll over every year.

"If there was an issue and I did not agree with it, I spoke up," McMahon said. "My record speaks for itself."

McMahon, a strong supporter of the man Lynch replaced, former City Manager John Cox, was up for reappointment at the end of 2006. Lynch instead selected Mark Paton, a Billerica schoolteacher and former board member.

On Wednesday, McMahon said he understood that the new manager wanted someone new on the board.

McMahon ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2007, and sought the governor's appointment to the LHA board in 2010.

It is not clear whether Lynch or the next city manager will fill openings on city boards and commissions, including the LHA vacancy.

Lynch set his departure for March 10. The council voted 5-4 Tuesday night to ask Lynch to consider staying on to help with the budget. The council is expected to discuss the terms under which Lynch would stay in a closed-door session on Tuesday.

In response to Lynch's planned departure, City Councilor Dan Rourke filed a motion for this past Tuesday's meeting requesting Lynch not make any more board appointments. Rourke withdrew the motion, but said he plans to bring it back soon.

"I don't think he should make any more appointments," Rourke said Wednesday. "He should let the next person do that."

Lynch told the council Tuesday that the position has been advertised and he has interviewed one person so far. The manager said he has a couple of other interviews scheduled for the board post, which does not include a stipend.

McMahon said Thursday morning he had yet to be contacted.

Asked if he had any preference about whether Lynch or the next city manager makes the decision on who will fill the open board slot, McMahon said: "If Bernie would interview me and appoint me, I would be the happiest guy in the city of Lowell. If Manager Lynch won't appoint me, I prefer to have the next manager look at it.

"In a way, I think the future city manager should do it because it is a five-year appointment, and the new manager should have the chance to put someone on the board," he added.

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