Updated with response from St. Clair

Conflict between selectwoman, town manager stirs controversy in Thomaston

Selectwoman's business partner called police claiming harassment by code officer
By Beth A. Birmingham | May 29, 2019
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Thomaston resident Rod Grindell, right, offers his comments during an open meeting May 28 to address the news of the resignation of Town Manager Valmore Blastow Jr.

Thomaston — The recent resignation of longtime Town Manager Valmore Blastow Jr. has stirred controversy in Thomaston.

More than 80 people attended an emergency meeting May 28 to ask questions and hear the Board of Selectmen's plan to move forward following Blastow's resignation.

Although there was much criticism for the lack of publicity about the meeting, which was held at 2 p.m., Chairman Peter Lammert looked into the audience and pointed out the number of people present.

Lammert said he felt compelled to call a meeting to bring people together to dispel some of the rumors -- including one that,  "Now we don't have to go to Lura Libby, right?"

Lammert explained that the board must go forward, and the town is its responsibility.

"We've got to go along in an organized way," he said, noting that picking a new town manager is not like appointing the head of a department. There must be advertisements and a great deal of correspondence, he said.

He said the board must determine what direction it wants to go in the town manager search -- whether it will appoint a search committee or use another avenue.

Lammert said following Blastow's departure June 6, the Town Office will run as efficiently as it has and any big questions will be addressed by the board.

"We are heading into the busiest part of the summer, with town a meeting coming up," Lammert said, assuring the audience that the meeting will not be postponed and requesting all department heads to be present to help answer any budgetary questions that may arise.

Lammert said what normally happens in cases such as this is that the board selects someone to act as an interim town manager. He said he has received some information from various law firms, the Maine Municipal Association, and other town managers -- whom he said want to be kept informed on the selection process.

"Apparently there are some people out there who like Thomaston," he said.

When the floor was opened to questions, resident Jan Dearborn asked the board if everything possible had been done to keep the current town manager.

"Is there any possibility that he would change his mind," she asked, to which Blastow declined comment.

"This sounded like a schoolyard brawl, and I was really disappointed to read it," Dearborn added.

Susan Devlin said she had observed a change in the tone of meetings over the past year, and urged the board to look deeper into what may be going on to avoid putting someone else into a very difficult position.

"I don't think it's just Val retiring," she said, "I think it's an environment that we need to see what's going on and what needs to change."

Sumner Kinney suggested the town seek assistance from the Maine Municipal Association. "Because of our lack of experience and the good fortune we've had of having a town manager for this longevity, we're quite inexperienced to find somebody of that caliber," he said.

Lammert said he had received information from MMA, which indicates it does keep a list of interim town manager candidates, as well as other information.

Diane Giese also said she had noticed a difference in the climate at the Town Office lately. "It seems to me that we have lost a lot of the civility that I have always loved Thomaston for," she said, "I don't think we should try and emulate what is going on in Washington, D.C. I think we should try to be kind and decent about our communications and how we treat people."

"I feel badly that Val is not retiring, but is resigning, and I'm sorry for that, Val, because I think you've done a great job," Giese said, to a round of applause.

Peggy McCrea commented that change is always good, and sometimes it is necessary and should happen, but noted that there is a proper way to go about it. "To be civilized and not underhanded and rude and disrespectful. And I think that is what we're seeing happening here," she said.

Ann Perkins said communication was a two-way street and she had seen accusations thrown both ways, both publicly and privately. "Communication is very important, and change can also be for good," she said, "This could be a great opportunity not only for the town, but for Val, because you can go on and do something that you've enjoyed or enjoy a retirement. You've served the town very loyally for a very long time, and maybe it's time that this town pulled up its big-girl pants or big-boy pants and moved on and started doing the things that we're supposed to do."

Doug Erickson said blame could be placed all the way around, and recommended the board make the next town manager meet on a regular basis with department heads in order to keep tabs on what exactly is going on.

"I would suggest that you guys take more of an active interest in running the town and working with the town manager so this never happens again," he said, "because I have to be honest with you, I think some of you are over your heads at this point in the game."

The final comment came from Rod Grindell, who first thanked Blastow, and then said his resignation is "like the tip of an iceberg ... there's a lot going on below the surface." He said he wouldn't be surprised if Blastow sued for a hostile work environment, but also doesn't think he's that type of person.

Grindell noted he had heard about numerous things like harassment and intimidation, and "I don't think this should be tolerated. This town can't have any unity while that type of environment is being fostered and tolerated."

Selectman vs. Town Manager

In Blastow's resignation letter, he talked about Selectman Beverly St. Clair and her business partner and boyfriend, Scott Johnson -- who are co-owners of Thomaston Recycling Inc. -- saying "they were going to get rid of me."

Blastow included documents with his resignation letter showing that Johnson had filed complaints with the town police department and later the sheriff's office about Code Officer Bill Wasson, who was looking into potential code violations at the business shared by Johnson and St. Clair on Butler Road in Thomaston. The violations concerned junk piles being too close to the roadway, according to the documents.

Johnson "called to report a possible harassment issue with an employee of the town of Thomaston" May 11, according to documents from the sheriff's office.

Officer Paul Spear phoned Johnson to discuss the concern, and was told there had been ongoing issues between his business and the town of Thomaston -- more specifically, between St. Clair and the town.

"I have handled a similar complaint involving Beverly and a couple of the Select Board members during the election time," Spear stated. During the conversation with Spear, Johnson told him he is running for a position as assessor for the town, and that everything was fine until he decided to run.

"He also believes it is because of a request by Beverly that the town manager have a job evaluation done," the narrative states.

Johnson told Spear he had seen Wasson driving by his business, which is on a dead end road, and when he went out to the road to wait for Wasson to turn around, he would not stop and talk to him.

"Scott told me he feels after talking to some people and hearing different things that have happened to other businesses in town in the past, that this is being done to harass them," Spear said. "He told me he feels they are just trying to push him around, and he isn't going to stand for it."

On May 12, Spear met with Wasson to discuss the situation, and was told Johnson was sent a letter three years ago about the violations, and as recently as this past winter the two met to discuss them.

A timetable was set up for things to be cleared up as of March 31, and upon Wasson's visit April 1, things had not been taken care of, according to the report.

"He [Wasson] told me it's coming time for the town to act, but due to cost they are trying to avoid taking that route," Spear noted.

When Spear explained to Wasson what Johnson thought was going on, Wasson said he is running unopposed for the assessor's position and he has to report to the town manager as part of his job.

The incident report states in conclusion: "At this time it does not appear this is intended harassment, but rather ensuring a business is in compliance. Bill did not say anything to indicate this is retaliation for anything Beverly has done. He is aware she is hard-nosed."

It is among the selectmen's tasks to sign the town's warrants so the town's bills can be paid.

Every month selectmen including St. Clair sign a warrant that includes payment to the Owls Head-South Thomaston-Thomaston Cooperative Transfer Station, with part of the money going to ecoMaine for taking the town's trash and the other part to Thomaston Recycling Inc. for hauling the trash to ecomaine. Documents requested by The Courier-Gazette show the payments for May, April and March come to nearly $21,000 per month to the cooperative transfer station.

St. Clair's response to our questions (as taken directly from her email):

"It was not my wish to respond publicly to false public recriminations against me or my partner by the town manager. Those who know us are well aware that his characterizations of us are patently untrue and unfair. Because many in this town do not know me, because two newspapers have reached out to me for a response, and because my silence may well be perceived as admissions to his hurtful untrue accusations, I feel obligated to defend myself.

In response to the town manager's resignation, I was as surprised as everyone else. As a Select Person, I am disappointed that an employee of the town would write such a hostile, provocative and unprecedented resignation letter.

I believe the divisive and toxic conditions that the town manager is referring to have stemmed from open meetings, unlike the clandestine meetings of the past, an issue I have been adamant about since I started as selectperson. I don't believe town business has changed over the years, the public is just more aware of it now.

Thomaston Recycling has never been served a violation citation by the code enforcement officer, nor do I believe that we are in violation at this time.

I'm not sure why Chairman Lammert said we had ill intent towards the town manager. That is false. Neither my partner nor I have ever stated that we wanted to get rid of the town manager, but words expressing that sentiment has been uttered by his source to us on a number of occasions.

The town manager quoted a response I made 'in third party,' but he failed to mention it was in response to an unfounded letter he wrote to the selectboard, but directed at me, concerning an issue I raised about unbilled EMS money. He read this as part of his manager's report. The words in my response were kind in comparison to his.

My only objectives have been to carry out my obligations as a selectperson in accordance with responses to my inquiries to the Maine Municipal Association, advice of the town attorney and oversight requirements of state and municipal law.

I am a person of integrity, and my intent while serving in this capacity is to manage the municipal finances, protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens and to uphold state and town law to the best of my ability.  If the town manager feels threatened by my dedication to lawful duty, that is on him."

In a separate statement May 31, St. Clair said that Thomaston Recycling, Inc. will no longer be buying scrap metal at its 56 Butler Road facility.

Code Enforcement Officer Bill Wasson confirmed June 4 that TRI's permit to be a junkyard expires this month, and he is not certain what will occur next.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Conflict between selectwoman, town manager stirs controversy in Thomaston
(Video by: Beth A. Birmingham and Tyler Southard)
Comments (3)
Posted by: Kendra Ruth Dawson | Jun 01, 2019 22:22

No conflict of interest? To many players or former players in the same field to suggest other wise.



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 30, 2019 07:48

Small wonder many people do not want to be in public service. Why anyone needs to subject themselves to this kind of dysfunction, I can only imagine. Politics should not be a vocation but sadly it has become such. Dealing with the public in any capacity is tough with today's attitude.



Posted by: Douglas E Collins | May 29, 2019 18:21

So, I know most people my age don’t follow along or go to Selectmen meetings. I have to choose my words carefully, as our foundation is located in Thomaston. The town of Thomaston is a mess. I serve on several boards, and this the most dysfunctional board I’ve seen operate. It’s toxic, it’s hostile to its citizens who dare to question their past decisions. Here is an example from today; a lady roughly around my age had the courage to ask why the meeting was scheduled at 2:00pm as we have kids to pick up from school. The chairman, after what I guess you could call a brief explanation, said “I’ve been told I have a large posterior, you can get in line and take a bite.” Translation, because she asked a question, she was told to bite his ass. So, if you want to know where this toxic, hostile, mess starts, think about that!

Jared Porter



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