SALEM — The city's Housing Authority has a new director, one tested by turbulence and ready to build.

The Housing Authority Board interviewed two finalists for the Authority's executive director position on Wednesday night. The replacement will fill a vacancy left behind by the retirement of Carol McGowan this year. 

They settled on Cathy Hoog, executive director of the North Andover Housing Authority, on a unanimous 5-0 vote. Before the vote, the board was split in preference — with three members preferring Hoog and two favoring Alice Sheridan, assistant executive director of the Gloucester Housing Authority. 

After the interviews, two residents on the search committee — whistleblower Billie McGregor and Calvin Young, president of the Charter Street Tenant Association — were asked to weigh in. Both endorsed Hoog over Sheridan.

Sheridan was the first to interview, during which she focused heavily on tenant involvement. She dove into that on a question about why she was interested in coming to Salem.

"I heard a lot the last time I was here, for the first interview — there's a desire to have more tenant involvement, and I'm excited about that. I love working with people," Sheridan said. "I don't believe housing authorities should be property management. It should be much more, and we should be helping our families to... the catchword now is to live their best life."

Hoog, asked about raising cash and using it, said she considers capital planning "an ongoing process."

"It isn't once a year. It's every week, every month of the entire year, and it's about planning and securing," Hoog said. "If the capital needs are kind of failing, I'd be inclined to look at why. It may be more than just funding — it may be that we need to prioritize how we're doing things. It may be that we're not advocating for enough."

Hoog is also known for her efforts taking over the North Andover Housing Authority in the wake of a triple homicide in one of the organization's properties in 2015. A letter from the chair of the community's housing authority described her work over more than four years to turn around and rebuild the organization.

The interviews saw modest involvement from Leo Dauwer, a Housing Authority search consultant who aided the process and, at times Wednesday night, asked his own questions of candidates. It appeared that he came close to making a recommendation favoring Sheridan at one point during her interview.

"Very rarely, in all the searches I do — which amounts to hundreds at this point — very rarely did they submit their performance review," Dauwer said of Sheridan. "It's a very, very glowing, thorough, eight-pages-plus-with-an-addendum-to-it performance appraisal, and I highly recommend you refer to that when taking your vote."

Moments earlier, Dauwer said the board is "hiring somebody who has to fall in love with organizations, sometimes not people. For a chief executive officer, the organization is more important than the people because if the organization doesn't function, there's nothing for these people."

Uniquely, Sheridan fought back against Dauwer's comment.

"If we didn't have tenants, we wouldn't have a job," she said. "They are the most important thing, but the job has to get done — it's two-fold."

After the interviews, two residents on the search committee — whistleblower Billie McGregor and Calvin Young, president of the Charter Street Tenant Association — were asked to weigh in. Both endorsed Hoog over Sheridan.

"Cathy Hoog has an extensive background in community mental health, and under the circumstances, that seems to me that it would be a benefit for the situation here in the Housing Authority," McGregor said. "She's adept at conflict resolution, which is something that needs to be addressed, and it's apparent the woman has the skills to go out and get some money. We definitely need that."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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