Kenneth Hagenow was facing potential disciplinary proceedings in his job as a Manchester Housing Authority administrator in May of 2011 when he and authority officials signed a legal “settlement agreement” — under which he retired and they resolved their differences “without costly and protracted proceedings,” as the agreement put it.
Neither Hagenow nor the authority was allowed to discuss publicly what the problem was. They agreed that Hagenow’s signing of the document didn’t “constitute an admission” of any wrongdoing, and vice-versa. The authority agreed to give him a “neutral letter of recommendation” for future employment, and he agreed “not to apply for nor accept employment with the MHA” ever again.
Two years later, Hagenow entered the authority’s maintenance facilities “without invitation or permission” and came into “unwanted” contact with an employee who asked him to leave, according to a November 2013 letter to Hagenow from the authority’s then-director. He was told in the letter that he would be “subject to arrest” if it happened again.
Government Watch obtained the letter and settlement agreement via a Freedom of Information Act request last week.
All of the above wouldn’t normally make you think that Hagenow would someday be given control or influence over his former employer.
And yet that’s exactly what happened on Feb. 3 — when Manchester’s city council voted unanimously to appoint Hagenow as one of five members of the housing authority’s Board of Commissioners, who oversee the agency that administers hundreds of units of public housing.
It’s an unusual set of circumstances, but it illustrates something typical in local government: It’s hard to find someone who’s both knowledgeable and willing to serve in an important but unpaid policy position — and when officials find someone, they don’t always do a lot of research into an appointee’s background.In Hagenow’s case, council members say that they weren’t privy to the contents of the 2011 separation agreement — which imposed gag orders on both sides to keep it confidential.
Despite the agreement’s confidentiality provisions, however, the state’s Freedom of Information Act still calls for the release of such documents involving public employees who are paid by taxpayers. And so The Courant submitted its FOI request Wednesday for any documents involving Hagenow’s separation from employment.
On Thursday, the day after the FOI request was submitted, Hagenow withdrew. He sent an email Friday morning to the authority’s new executive director, Joseph D’Ascoli, “to inform you that I will be withdrawing myself from appointment to the Manchester Housing Authority Board [of Commissioners],” effective the previous day.
“Although it has been an honor to be considered for the Board, it appears that my schedule will not allow me to properly devote the required time to this very important role,” Hagenow wrote. “It was my sincere desire to serve not only the Housing Authority but all the residents that call MHA their home. In light of the fact that I have not yet been sworn in, this should not disrupt the smooth flow of work at the Authority.”
Contacted Friday by phone at his current job — as asset manager at the Hartford-based Corporation for Independent Living — Hagenow said he had started thinking about how busy he already is, including his current service on another Manchester board involving housing for the elderly.
He said he had been informed about The Courant’s Wednesday request for documents about his past employment at the authority — including the settlement agreement and the 2013 letter — and when asked if that had a bearing on his decision to withdraw the next day, he said that his employment history was “a non-issue.” He said he withdrew because “I don’t have the time.”
Hagenow declined comment on whatever issues led to his departure from his job as the Section 8 administrator for the authority, a position that paid about $55,000. All he would say was that he and the authority’s former executive director “didn’t see eye to eye.”
The Courant’s FOI Act request covered other documents besides the 2011 settlement agreement and 2013 letter, but the authority’s attorney, Andrew Houlding, said in an email Friday that “Mr. Hagenow has objected in writing to the disclosure of certain materials that may have been responsive to the original FOIA request, under provisions of the FOIA that protect against the disclosure of materials that might constitute an invasion of privacy.
“We expect that he will provide a formal objection, under oath, to such disclosures, in which case no further disclosure would be made absent an order from the FOI Commission.”
Hagenow’s name was submitted to Manchester’s city council for appointment under local rules providing for minority party representation on the authority’s volunteer board. Republican members of the council — which is called the Board of Directors — nominated Hagenow, a Republican, to fill a vacancy, and he was approved on Feb. 3 without any dissent from Democrats or Republicans.
After that Feb. 3 decision, council members started getting calls from employees at the authority who were concerned about his return, council minority leader Cheri Eckbreth said in an interview Friday. She said the callers didn’t say what the problem was, but it seemed to involve “personal” differences.
Eckbreth said that she and other Republicans had put Hagenow up for the position after he’d expressed an interest in serving. She said they hadn’t known about any problems during Hagenow’s past employment at the authority. But she added that serving on the authority’s governing board wouldn’t have put Hagenow in direct contact with employees he used to work with — just the current executive director.
Eckbreth said Hagenow probably knows more about federal housing regulations and other issues important to the authority than anyone in town, but now that he’s decided to withdraw, the Republicans on the council will put up another person for appointment — probably next month.
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant’s investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.