Thomaston reeling in wake of resignation

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | Jun 12, 2019

Town Manager Valmore Blastow Jr. has been an institution in the town of Thomaston. He started with the town as code enforcement officer is 1991 and rose to town manager in 1993.

His resignation letter May 23 would have been a bombshell to the town even if it had not included accusations aimed at a member of the Board of Selectmen in the town and an attached police report. This marks the end of an era for this community.

We have seen in the school districts and in other local municipalities that the days of long-term head administrators, who spend more than a decade here, have passed. More often, we see towns having to replace town managers and school district superintendents every few years as these officials are driven out by politics or move on to the next stepping stone in their careers.

Blastow, we know, takes with him a massive amount of institutional knowledge that cannot be replaced. He understands the town and its needs, and he has a strong understanding of how funding for community projects through local, state and federal government works.

Beyond that, he has forged strong bonds and relationships in the community.

What we saw the other night when Thomaston selectmen refused to accept his resignation (except for Beverly St. Clair who was absent and Bill Hahn), was nothing short of the stages of grief for those who have long worked with Blastow. A town board literally took a vote expressing the stage of denial, because for Peter Lammert, Peter McCrea and Lee-Ann Upham, it must be pretty difficult to imagine running the town without Blastow.

It is a shame to see such a long tenure end in controversy, but town governments involve politics and disagreements are going to crop up. That is part of the reason long tenure for town administrators has become so rare. Imagine that you have not one boss, but a board of five, and that those bosses are elected by the general populace every few years.

Blastow makes it clear in his letter that his conflict was with Selectman Beverly St. Clair, who was elected in June 2018.

While some will argue that Blastow's resignation letter should not have been so personal, it did finally make public the severity of the division among town leaders.

Emails between town officials show that on several occasions St. Clair has been unnecessarily harsh in her communications with other board members, especially Lammert and McCrea.

We have also found that she has two areas of personal interest in decisions made by boards she sits on. In February, she replaced Lammert on the Owls Head-South Thomaston-Thomaston Cooperative Transfer Station board, despite the fact that her company, Thomaston Recycling Inc., has a contract to do work with that organization.

Our story on this situation quotes St. Clair as saying the Thomaston Board of Selectmen "did confirm with their attorney as well, there is no conflict of interest for me to serve on the OHSTT board," and the same story reports the transfer station board checked with its attorney, Patrick Mellor, about any conflict of interest as well. "Other than Beverly having to abstain on votes that dealt with TRI, there are no problems," he said.

Lawyers can argue about whether this meets a technical legal definition for conflict of interest, but the court of public opinion tends to hold public officials to the standard of avoiding even the appearance of a conflict. Aside from this, Thomaston residents don't need a member of the board abstaining from votes; they need a board member who can represent them in that organization.

St. Clair should step down from that board immediately.

In addition, it has come to light that she and her partner Scott Johnson, who is on the town personnel board and was running unopposed for assessor, have an ax to grind with Code Enforcement Officer Bill Wasson, who was only doing his job in trying to bring their business into compliance with town ordinances.

Some might argue that it is good to get fresh blood from time to time and that there is a need to shake up the status quo, but it is hard for people seeking change to maintain the moral high ground when they have documented personal agendas.

It is our opinion that St. Clair and Johnson should step away from involvement in town government and allow less biased individuals to serve on important boards.

We would be surprised if the controversy ends soon. Blastow's resignation letter noted that he felt he had endured a hostile and toxic work environment, defamation and tortuous conditions, all key words indicating likelihood of a future lawsuit against the town. There is often a price to be paid for shaking things up.

We wish the remaining town leaders luck in facing the many challenges before them.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Douglas E Collins | Jun 14, 2019 17:54

I just read your eulogy for our former Town Manager, (give me a second while I dry my eyes). It was over time for him to leave. He has been here so long he thought the select board reported to him. That said, I’m sure he learned a lot here. Good for him, he had a good career at tax payer’s expense. Let him go and enjoy retirement. And as for being on a committee or being a selectman, this is not a career folks. Being there for 25-30 years is NOT a good thing. No matter what this (and I say this with a grain of salt) news paper says. People tend to believe they own the committee after a few years.

In your editorial (if you can call it that) you mentioned a technical legal definition. Really? You’re a lawyer now? Apparently not a good one. Think about it, If all members of boards in this town or state that had to abstain from a particular vote, stepped down, we wouldn’t have any boards or for that matter, state government.

So, whoever wrote this dribble thinks Beverly was being unnecessarily harsh? Are the selectmen and women that childish? Harsh is when the chairman stands up and yells at people when they ask a question or when the town manager gets up and walks out of the meeting because he didn’t like your question. Harsh is when you walk into a meeting and your infantile peers refuse to speak to you. Harsh is when you have to lose your business for trying to do the right thing.

Harsh is when the select board goes after another member of their own group because she is doing exactly what we voted her in to do. Yes folks, remember why we voted Beverly in? It seems we wanted some questions asked but when the B.S. hit the fan we were nowhere around to support her. As I remember we were all concerned that if we asked the questions the same thing would happen to us as happened to others. Selectman glaring at you, selectman yelling at you, Town Manager saying he didn't receive that particular email you know you sent. Oh yes, or a selectman telling you to “stand in line and bite his ass.”

On top of everything (the attached police report), Beverly NEVER implicated anyone for scratching her vehicle. The chief wrote a report and followed up as is his job. Try to get this though your heads, Beverly did not blame anyone.

As far as your comment that Beverly should step down I think you over estimate your importance or knowledge of the situation. In other words, who cares what you think? Thank God my friends and family are changing to the Bangor Daily.

Many of you in town know Scott and have for years. Has he ever done anything that would lead you not to believe him? Village Soup and a few nasty people have basically ruined his and Beverly’s business.

Did you know Scott and Beverly has saved the transfer station thousands of dollars per year for a lot of years? This is a fact you can look up. Look at what just taking care of the cardboard would have cost. Good luck with the budget this time around.

I know for a fact they have helped people start their small businesses. Oh but that’s ok, he didn’t kowtow to some official. He questioned authority OMG, he’s evil !!!!! What a bad person!!!!

I want to thank Beverly for her service. She is the only member of the board with guts enough to ask the difficult question and push for an answer. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

If you intend to run for selectman in Thomaston please make sure you are not too harsh !!!! And for heaven sake DO NOT demand that the Town Manager gets a performance review. They are much too important to go through what everyone else has to.

Posted by: Christopher Hedstrom | Jun 14, 2019 05:43

The articles on this subject are some of the most biased I have ever read, and then you come with this editorial to justify it. The Courier Gazette, and Beth Birmingham should be ashamed. You have literally written your own narrative, and i the process influenced the "court of public opinion". Where in any one of your articles did you present evidence that Beverly or Scott tried to "get rid" of the town manager? All I read was heresay and slander. As far as the board for the solid waste department, there is no conflict of interest. The town attorneys said so, the board said so, and the town and board of selectman appproved her replacing Peter Lammert. I will say it again this publication should be ashamed of this shoddy, biased reporting. The town of Thomaston owes Scott and Beverly and apology.  A town employee went to the media and slandered two citizens and their business. You based all of this on his word alone, which he heard from Peter Lammert. It is laughable, except for the fact that this has done real damage.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jun 13, 2019 06:37

Seems that people with their own agenda are seeking political power. I always thought government's work was to find what works best for the majority. Politics should not be a vocation. We see the mess in Wahington D..C. and it is flowing down hill.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jun 12, 2019 14:01

Excellent editorial.  It is time to put the past behind and move ahead. These are tough times for those in leadership. We all would do better to empathize instead of criticize.  We will soon see what St. Clair and Johnson are made of.

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