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UPDATED: Town of Hope will not release lawyer report

Attorney investigation costs town $13,255; Town will not release report to public
By Daniel Dunkle | Nov 24, 2020

Hope — Documents released by the town of Hope show that turmoil in the Town Office created a stressful work environment for one former town clerk, prompting her to resign.

So far the town has paid $13,255 for Portland Attorney Maria Fox to carry out an investigation into allegations regarding town government and personnel. Fox was hired in September, according to a notice placed on the town’s website, and at the time was expected to carry out an investigation lasting 30 to 45 days.

One document town officials do not plan to release is the report from Fox that was purchased for that $13,255. In an email Nov. 24, Town Administrator Samantha Mank said:

"The documents or reports provided by Maria Fox or her firm Mittel Asen are confidential and by the instruction of the Town’s Attorney, will remain confidential and not released to the public."

To watch Hope select board meetings online, visit https://hopemaine.org/index.asp?SEC=2C55CB2E-B374-43BA-860A-64CD917103D5&Type=B_BASIC

The investigation included researching town government documents and interviewing witnesses. The itemized bill to the town shows that the attorney has worked more than 48 hours on this project at a rate of $275 per hour. Town officials report that the investigation is ongoing and will hopefully be completed soon. They said they could not release any information on what the attorney has found.

The town’s 2020-2021 legal budget is $19,860.

"I cannot comment as it is not up to me to determine whether and when to release any information to the public about this matter," Fox said when contacted by email. "Please understand that municipal personnel matters are confidential by statute, which may limit the information that the Town can legally disclose."

Town officials released documents to The Camden Herald in response to its Freedom of Access Act request, including financial records relating to the attorney’s investigation and resignation letters from former town clerk Alexenia “Allie” Payor.

Payor was hired in January and resigned, effective immediately, Sept. 28.

Her resignation came after this newspaper reported that the town had hired the attorney for the investigation. It was also after Mank had fired former bookkeeper Langley Willauer Aug. 7.

Willauer is also Hope’s Planning Board Chairman, and he was hired Nov. 6 as deputy town clerk and treasurer for the town of Appleton.

Payor wrote a lengthy explanation for her resignation Oct. 5 as an addendum to her original, shorter resignation letter, and this was discussed by the Select Board.

“I imagine there will be questions surrounding my seemingly sudden resignation, so I find it necessary to briefly explain why I am no longer able to work for the Town of Hope,” she wrote. “I first want to make it abundantly clear that my departure has nothing to do with the current administrator — in fact, Samantha is the reason why I remained in the position for as long as I did.

“Following the dismissal of the former Bookkeeper, the office was unsurprisingly inundated with a tremendous amount of work. While it was not unmanageable, it was certainly stressful. My own workload had increased exponentially. It was during this time that I had to assume several roles of the Bookkeeper.

“While there are individuals who are upset with the decision to terminate the former Bookkeeper, as someone who had to take on a great deal of the duties, I can personally attest to the overwhelming amount of errors that had been made during his brief tenure. I do not intend to tarnish the reputation of anyone who has worked in the office, however I am astounded at the succession of events that have taken place since early August.

“It was perplexing to hear comments about the spectacular work that was being completed when the individuals making those judgments were not even present to witness said work. While I don’t know the reasons surrounding the dismissal, I can surmise my own conclusions based on the amount of corrective work I’ve personally done and the amount of external, professional accounting help that had to be recruited to reconcile the errors that had been made.

“The unremitting harassment that I had to endure after the Bookkeeper’s dismissal is ultimately what drove me out of the office. The former Bookkeeper would frequent the office, sometimes multiple times a day, in a demeanor that was unmistakably meant to intimidate me. I had to politely ask the former Bookkeeper to stop texting my personal phone, and even had to have my significant other request that he cease contacting me via text. On multiple occasions, after the former Bookkeeper would text my personal phone and I would not engage, that message would be followed by a retaliatory, demanding or accusatory message to my work email. On top of this, there were relentless phone calls. There was even an aggressive and worrisome message left on the former Bookkeeper’s own voicemail where he addressed himself, as himself, demanding a file immediately.

“It was distressing to hear from concerned citizens that the former Bookkeeper was going door-to-door to disclose personnel grievances. There were also other individuals that would attempt to pressure me into providing information surrounding the dismissal and related events that I genuinely did not have. I can recall many instances where I felt as though I was being baited into make mistakes for the purpose of making the administrator seem incompetent.

“...My goal each day was still to assist Hope residents by accurately performing my regular duties and certain duties of the Bookkeeper it was necessary for me to assume. Most unfortunately, this was made impossible by the former Bookkeeper’s harassment, accompanied by the individuals that were ill-advisedly goaded to purposely turn the town office into disarray as a response to a decision that they did not agree with.

“For these reasons, it no longer made sense for me to subject myself to this hostile, toxic environment. For the Town’s sake, I sincerely hope that these matters are resolved soon.”

Payor has since been hired to serve as the deputy town clerk in the town of Thomaston. She said she has no intention of filing a lawsuit against the town of Hope.

Contacted by phone Friday, Nov. 20, Willauer said that he could not comment on this situation. However, he has previously made public statements about his experience working for the town.

At the Aug. 11 Select Board meeting, Willauer had read a lengthy statement criticizing Mank and noted that he maintained documentation of his time in the town office. He disagreed with the idea that the town has a six-month probationary period, having been fired during that period, arguing that was not intended to hide abuses of power.

“I believe that I was fired as a result of bearing witness to a raft of dishonest, potentially fraudulent, potentially illegal, and egregious actions (including the covering up of such actions and the involving of vulnerable subordinates in them),” he said at the meeting. His full statement is recorded in the meeting minutes.

He also noted that the pandemic-related quarantine came about a week into his tenure as bookkeeper.

He accused Mank of what he called a fraud, saying she lied about having failed to send out postcards informing citizens of an informational meeting until the last minute.

He also accused her of election irregularities. “Samantha Mank ran our most recent election and did not do so consistent with State Election Laws,” he said. “...Samantha asked me to sign a statement saying the State ballot boxes were sealed before they were sealed. I politely said, ‘it says here we’re supposed to seal, so we need to do that.’ Samantha pressured me twice to sign. She then sealed the ballot box and I signed. On July 15, Samantha was apparently alone with the ballots and the tally sheets for two hours before posting the results to the website and going home. Are the Board members aware that for the 25 ballot questions on the July 14 election, the vote tally for each question varied between 463 and 548 when by Maine Law every tally must be equal.”

He also went on with a lengthy list of other complaints and criticisms. His full statement is available on the Hope town website under Select Board minutes for Aug. 11.

Select Board Chair Sarah Ann Smith read a statement from the Select Board in the Aug. 25 meeting, explaining that in the July 14 election some errors occurred in the tallying of the votes. These only affected the town meeting items, which are usually not on secret ballot, but had to be this year due to the pandemic. State ballot items were not affected. However, a recount was not possible under the law at that time. She said more information would be released later, but that has not happened yet.

The town of Appleton had also announced a mistake in the tallying of local vote counts in the July election, and that community’s town clerk and deputy town clerk (Pamela Smith and Rebecca Hughs) resigned following the November election, stating they felt they were disrespected and micromanaged following the problem in July.

To replace them, Appleton hired former State Rep. and Rockland City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson as town clerk and Willauer as deputy town clerk and treasurer on Nov. 6.

Appleton Select Board Chair John Fenner said it was important to quickly hire for those positions, noting that without a town treasurer, employees at the Appleton school do not receive their paychecks.

The Town of Hope, on its website, is advertising for a new town clerk and a bookkeeper.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Nov 21, 2020 10:46

Why would a town hire a person in the middle of a controversial matter ? The fact that Allie Payor has chosen to move on and not participate in any legal actions speaks volumes. I don't know any of these people but it would appear to me that Ms Payor is the functioning adult here.



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