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Hope hires lawyer to sort out town office problems

By Daniel Dunkle | Sep 16, 2020

Hope — The town of Hope has hired a Portland employment attorney to help sort out personnel and town government problems, according to a message in red lettering that has appeared on the town website.

The website states Maria Fox is "an employment attorney who specializes in both public and private personnel matters and mediation."

She has been hired "to conduct an inquiry into recent issues and allegations regarding town government and personnel."

The town is currently dealing with several issues: the firing of the town bookkeeper; errors in counting votes in the July 14 election; released audio of a select board member some argue made threats against other town officials; and a new petition to create a recall process to remove elected officials.

Town Administrator Samantha Mank fired bookkeeper Langley Willauer Aug. 7. He submitted a lengthy written statement about the situation to the select board at its Aug. 11 meeting accusing Mank of dishonesty, of failing to send postcards to the townspeople prior to the election in a timely manner, election wrongdoing and other complaints about her conduct. His statement was included in the meeting minutes.

Both Mank and Willauer were wearing multiple hats in the town. Willauer is also Planning Board chairperson and Mank is code enforcement officer.

Willauer was employed as bookkeeper, Registrar of Voters, Deputy Town Clerk and Deputy Tax Collector from Feb. 28 to Aug. 7 of this year. He was still in his probationary period as an employee and he addressed this in his statement.

“...While I believe there can sometimes be a place for policies such as a six-month probationary period, I do not believe that such a policy was ever intended to be, nor should the town of Hope ever allow, such a policy to be utilized for the abuse of power and the covering up of misdeeds as have, it is my belief, been perpetrated by Samantha Mank on the citizens of Hope," he said Aug. 11.

The other major controversy in the town started as a debate over how best to deal with road work and snow removal. Select Board member Bruce Haffner sent out flyers prior to the July election, which included town meeting items. In these door-to-door flyers, he urged people to vote no on a budget item related to road work to “Save Our Roads."

Some in the town have raised questions and concerns about his approach. Among them is Amy Powers, who released an audio recording, which she said included Haffner discussing putting out flyers and saying at one point, he was going to “take these guys down," referring to Town Administrator Mank, Select Board Vice Chairman Brian Powers (Amy's husband) and Road Commissioner John Monroe.

Monroe said Haffner should resign, and Brian Powers indicated that Haffner takes things too personally to serve as an elected official.

The recording was made without Haffner knowing he was being recorded.

The Select Board has wrestled with these issues in three difficult meetings. Members of the public have weighed in, some raising concerns about transparency and the need for more public information and some worrying about secret recordings of a select board member. Residents will vote in November on whether to create a recall ordinance that would make it possible to oust an elected official such as a select board member.

The new attorney will be working on the personnel and government issues.

"Fox is a partner in Mittel Asen, a Portland, Maine, law firm," the website states. "The inquiry will take 30-45 days to complete provided other issues do not arise during the course of the inquiry. Ms. Fox was engaged because of her decades of experience and her neutrality. She will provide fact finding and analysis as well as provide conclusions/recommendations.

"The Select Board and the Town of Hope will not provide updates during the inquiry period to assure complete neutrality and the integrity of the inquiry process. We plan to release information once the inquiry is complete."

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Claire Adams | Sep 17, 2020 12:50

Everyone should be very concerned- not just the Hope taxpayers- about accountability and transparency in government.

Intriguing that people in town anonymously record a phone conversation with Mr. Haffner without telling him (integrity anyone?), hide (cowardly) who the entrapper is, and then accuse him of saying that he thinks “people are out to get” him- when they just proved they are. Ha- Orwellian much?

Haffner is the duly elected town official. Yet, a handful of people want him to resign after failing in an attempt to entrap him. He won his seat in an election, and everyone should take this as subversion of our duly elected officials. Then… since that failed -they go after him because he exercised his constitutional right to free speech, by communicating with towns people, directly, via flyers?   So far there has been zip on addressing how the towns people feel about safer roads and an innovative approach to cost effective road maintenance, just the personal attacks. Swamp dwellers want to hide info with secret ballots/votes and conceal facts from the taxpayers, hiding behind being politically correct and personal attacks.

Moreover, the former bookkeeper raises highly questionable tactics surrounding management, bookkeeping and elections by the town government; and their response was more of a cover up!?!

Everyone who cares about democracy, the Constitution – absolutely- needs to listen to the full recording of Mr. Haffner and read the full statement -directly in Mr. Willauer’s own words, on the town website. and draw their own conclusions from the source.

Do not let someone filter, for you, the facts.

Fairness, transparency, accountability and honesty all begin at this level of local government and work their way right up to the national level.  I hope the attorney from Portland is not related or has any relationships to disclose; and proceeds with the utmost clarity, accountability, speed and ultimately transparency.

Posted by: Timothy John Fields | Sep 16, 2020 14:20

About time we got somebody to come in and figure this mess out,hopefully this will weed out some of the selectboard that should not be on it,we deserve better for sure

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