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Salem Housing Authority Votes to Cancel Private Party Funded With Public Money

Public housing officials in Salem, Massachusetts, formally voted Wednesday night to cancel the use of $5,000 in public funds that would have been used on a private retirement party for its outgoing executive director.

The celebration was scheduled at Spinelli's in Lynnfield for longtime employee Carol MacGown.

However, after questions from the NBC10 Boston Investigators, board members at the Salem Housing Authority decided to cancel the event.

At the meeting, board chair John Boris said the $900 deposit for the function hall would be returned.

"We look forward to honoring Carol in another fashion at another time," he said.

MacGown, who told the NBC10 Boston Investigators the party was not her idea, did not attend the meeting.

Public housing residents and Salem taxpayers packed the meeting space to learn more about the controversial decision.

"I'm holding you accountable right now to do your jobs," said resident Billie McGregor, who first spoke with NBC10 Boston when news of the retirement party surfaced.

Boris said he'd previously received assurances that the pre-2004 reserve account funds could be used for that purpose. But after the negative feedback, the board chair determined it was not an appropriate use of the money.

According to agency leaders, the unrestricted account currently has about $450,000 remaining in it. Approximately $350,000 of that has been earmarked for window replacements at public housing properties, they said.

The remaining amount can be used for almost any expenditure at the board's discretion.

"You might have that money, but is it the right thing, the moral thing, the ethical thing to do?" one attendee questioned.

Mayor Kim Driscoll, who sits on the board and was the sole member to vote against party funds, expressed dismay about how the issue had played out.

"The board was put in this position by the former employee and if not for the furor it caused, may have gone forward," Driscoll said. "This was a source of embarrassment for us that we'd use public dollars for a private retirement party."

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@nbcuni.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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