Palumbo to succeed Quirk on housing authority

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William Quirk is a political realist.

So, as a Lincoln Chafee appointee to the Warwick Housing Authority 25 years ago, he figured his days as a housing commissioner were numbered when Joseph Solomon, a Democrat, was elected mayor last November, even though he’s an unaffiliated voter.

In an interview Friday, Quirk, who has been chairman most of his tenure, said he didn’t consider asking Solomon to reappoint him to another five-year term. But then, as people called him and he considered his contacts not only in New England but nationally, he had second thoughts. In February, he told Solomon he would like to be reappointed, a sentiment he echoed a month later.

“He said, ‘No problem, if you want to stay, we can do it,’” Quirk said.

But things change, and they did.

Solomon has named CPA Ralph Palumbo to serve on the five-member board. It is an appointment that doesn’t require City Council approval, even though Palumbo was listed on the agenda for the Monday Council meeting.

Palumbo is the president of Southern Sky Renewal Energy, the company that built the solar parks off West Shore Road near the railroad underpass in Apponaug and the much larger array bordering the Airport Connector on a brown fields site that was once part of the Leviton Manufacturing site.

“He’s a Warwick resident and he’s very astute in the numbers, very astute in business and development, and I think he’d be a great addition to the Housing Authority,” Solomon said Wednesday.

“Just like every other appointment in the city, they’re not lifetime appointments. And just because it may have been Republican for the last 20, 26 years, there is a new administration in and the new administration likes to bring in some fresh ideas,” Solomon said.

“To the victor go the spoils. I expected to not be reappointed,” Quirk said.

When the word got out, Quirk said, “I got flak from across the country.”

That’s not surprising.

Quirk held high level positions in regional and national housing authority organizations. During his 25 years as a Warwick commissioner, he has served as vice president of the New England Commissioners Committee, vice president of the National Commissioners Committee and president of the Regional Council of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

In these roles, Quirk said he set forth two goals – the education and certification of housing commissioners as well as highlighting the importance of commissioners.

He said the certification involves a day and a half of “fundamentals” commissioners should understand and a day of ethics training. Certification is not a requirement to being appointed a commissioner. Quirk estimates of the thousands of housing commissioners nationwide, who are selected by local leaders, about half are certified by the national committee.

Quirk has been vocal among commissioners, underscoring their importance in guiding the authorities they oversee.

He bristles when commissioners tell him, “I’m just a commissioner,” to which he replies: “You are not just a commissioner; YOU ARE a commissioner.”

Quirk has met Palumbo and believes he will be a good addition to the authority.

Solomon also recognizes the role Quirk has played.

“I thank Mr. Quirk for his service, he’s done an admirable job and he’s a nice guy. I remember him from the tuxedo business [Quirk ran Waldorf Tuxedo in Governor Francis shopping plaza].”

The mayor added: “It’s got no reflection on him, it’s a reflection of an injection of some different ideas and a different approach. We’re dealing with millions and millions of dollars over the course of years in different areas of the city and I’m very in tune to bring financial and business-minded individuals into those positions to help get the best value for the town.”

Federally funded, the Warwick Housing Authority administrates 550 units in its complexes; 210 Section 8 vouchers and 28 family houses.

Quirk said the authority strictly adheres to protocols for openings and that generally an applicant for housing has a year and half wait for an opening.

“We’ve got to live by HUD’s rules and not the mayor’s rules and regulations,” he said.

A major issue faced by the authority, he said, is the federal requirement that the authority accept people undergoing rehabilitation for the abuse of alcohol and drugs. He estimated as much as 40 percent of the housing population is in rehab. Issues arise when these residents fail to take their medication, resulting in situations where there are outbursts. Quirk feels the solution is to make additional services available to these individuals.

Quirk notes that over the 25 years he’s served on the authority, for 23 of those years it has achieved the highest HUD public housing assessment score ranking possible. He credits this to director Michael Lyckland, deputy director Julie Finn, maintenance director Everett O’Donnell and the authority staff.

Quirk has a partner on the board, his wife, Deborah, who was likewise appointed by former Mayor Chafee. She has an additional two years to serve before her appointment expires.

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