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Who is Bruce Haffner?

The man at the center of the Hope recall election speaks out
By Daniel Dunkle | May 13, 2021
Select Board member Bruce Haffner may be recalled in June.

Hope — Residents will decide at the polls June 8 whether to oust from public office Select Board member Bruce Haffner and Budget Committee member Elinor Goldberg.

The recall ordinance is new, just approved at the polls in November, born out of the year of turmoil in Hope town government.

Haffner has been on the board for about two years. He said he got interested in running for public office in the town back when a solar project was being proposed and the board at the time seemed to be dragging their feet in supporting it.

“It appeared to me that there was a lot of money to be saved if we put in solar panels, and the board that was in place wasn’t going to do it.”

Haffner’s wife owned a home in Hope before they were married and they started visiting the town in about 2005, spending four to eight weeks per year here. They moved here fulltime in 2016.

Haffner grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and then a master’s in marketing at North Western. In about 1974, he went to work for Louis Dreyfus as a grain exporter sending rail cars of grain to load ships that would go to China and Russia. He moved up to the headquarters in Connecticut and worked in research.

He later went on to work as a commodities broker and with a hedge fund. He has sold insurance and cars over the course of his career.

Before he got involved in what would become volatile local politics, he was known locally, mostly, for teaching chess to students in schools across the Midcoast, from Hope and Appleton to Lincolnville and Belfast.

“Everybody told me when you get on the board, for the first three months don’t make any waves,” Haffner said. “I didn’t make any waves for the first six months.”

He said the first time there was a split vote was when the fire chief asked to raise the thermostat in the fire station by a few degrees, and Haffner supported the move since it would make a group of volunteers there more comfortable and the volunteers were saving the town money.

“I realized we didn’t have to vote 5-0,” he said. “It felt good to stand up for what you believed in.”

Trouble started with the snowplow contract. Jacob Esancy had been plowing the town’s roads for three years for $116,000 per year. When the contract went out to bid again in February 2020, Esancy bid $292,950 for the same work.

The board would not approve that large an increase and put the plowing out to bid again. In the second round negotiations continued, with the cost of plowing still up significantly from the previous contract. It was put out to bid a third time.

By this point, however, Haffner had an idea. The town did not have to be subject to the profit margins of the contractors and the negotiation process. It could buy some trucks, hire some drivers, and plow its own roads with its own employees. Haffner got to work crunching the numbers, preparing to present this plan to the Select Board. He was flexing the muscles he had used in calculating grain exports during his career.

In his research, he talked to officials in the towns of Morrill and Washington.

Discussion around the issue went on and on for months. In June, the board voted to go with Appleton Ridge Construction run by Jacob Boyington. Boyington was known for a major controversy in Appleton over construction of his house not meeting setback requirements.

At the June 2 Select Board meeting, Bill Jones of the Budget Committee said Haffner’s proposal was impressive and should be taken seriously, according to the meeting minutes.

Also at this meeting was Mike Ames, who was affiliated with Farley Inc., which was also being considered for the snow removal work. According to the minutes of the meeting, Ames “told the Selectmen that they were foolish and that they are an embarrassment for the Town of Hope. He went on to say that there is a contractor sitting right here listening to you. Pretty soon nobody is going to want to do work with you.”

At the following meeting, the contract with Boyington was extended from three to five years to gain the town a discount, bringing the cost to $976,500, or $195,300 per year. Haffner and Thomas Ingraham voted against this.

Haffner also asked that the townspeople be allowed to vote on this in a separate item in the June town meeting, which, due to the pandemic, was being done by secret ballot. This request was denied. In the July 14 town meeting warrant, voters would not see any mention of the snowplowing budget at all. They would only see the total for maintenance of town roads. They also might have noticed that the budget committee was advising a “no” vote.

Haffner did not give up. He started going door-to-door, talking to people about the roads budget. He had printed up flyers that he left on doorsteps. He went to the roads that had to see reductions in maintenance to pay for the increases in snowplowing to talk to those residents.

“People didn’t know what was on the ballot,” he said.

At some point, as he was going door-to-door, he said someone posted a notice on Hope Happenings, a Facebook group for town residents, not to answer the door and that he was in a white jeep.

During this campaign effort, he received a call from Mike Ames and told him he would call him back.

Haffner had talked to Ames previously when he was doing research on the cost of the town doing the snowplowing and had found Ames to be dead set against the idea of a town public works department.

When he called Ames back, Ames was secretly recording the conversation.

In August, Amy Powers, wife of Select Board Vice Chair Brian Powers, would release the recording publicly.

In the recording Ames argues that Haffner, in getting the item voted down, would put the town in a dilemma.

Haffner counters that town officials created their own dilemma and complains that they did not decide to have a different format for the town meeting vote than secret ballot. The town had gone that route due to the pandemic.

Ames said Haffner is “opening up a can of worms,” that the town cannot simply form its own public works department without first dealing with the fact that it has an elected road commissioner.

Haffner said, “The deck was stacked against me from the beginning, and I’m going to take these guys down.”

Ames asked who he was talking about.

Haffner answered Town Administrator Samantha Mank, Vice Chair Brian Powers and Road Commissioner John Monroe.

The two key arguments by those who want to see Haffner removed from the Select Board are that in this statement, he threatens Mank and the others, and that it was not acceptable for a member of the Select Board to unilaterally go out and campaign against a budget item.

In addition, concerning Mank, she is a town employee and the Select Board, including Haffner, constitute her supervisors.

Haffner maintains that the statement was not a threat. He meant, he says, that he planned to defeat their position in the political arena. The phone call in question, secretly recorded, was the night before the July 14 election.

“I had been campaigning for five days solid,” Haffner said. “I went to 160 homes, talking to people. The only thing I was thinking about was the outcome of the election. That’s what I was talking about.”

Asked if the police were called into the matter, Haffner said no.

As has been previously reported, following the July 14 election, the Select Board acknowledged publicly there were errors in the counting of the votes. This led to months of questions and discussions, and eventually the Attorney General’s Office decided not to investigate the election.

Select Board Chair Sarah Ann Smith, saying she was speaking as a citizen rather than in her elected role, called on Haffner and Goldberg to resign Dec. 8 following months of controversy. She also said Planning Board Chair Langley Willauer should resign. It had been Willauer, shortly after he was fired by Mank as the town bookkeeper, who had pointed out the election errors in a public meeting.

During that Dec. 8 meeting, Smith also noted that there was now a new recall process that would allow residents to oust the officials if they did not resign.

By Dec. 22, petitions had been turned in to recall Haffner and Goldberg.

The petition for Haffner states that he betrayed the trust placed in him in his position when: “He took it upon himself to undercut a majority Select Board decision on the roads budget because he disliked the outcome and so passed out misleading and unattributed flyers in a failed effort to have budget (sic) voted down,” and “He was caught on audio specifically threatening two elected town officials and a female town employee over whom he holds a supervisory role.”

It also states, “e-mails presented in the December 8th Select Board meeting indicate that he is an active participant in efforts to smear the town administrator and undermine confidence in town government.”

Finally, the petition document states he discussed confidential personnel issues in public even though he had been warned not to.

The petition to recall Goldberg also cited emails presented at the previous Select Board meeting by Smith in which Goldberg talked to Haffner and Willauer the day after Willauer was fired by Mank.

“So, here is the deal,” Goldberg states in the email. “We can make a huge mess of it by not keeping our powder dry and collecting all the dumb things Sam [Mank] has done and getting ‘witnesses’ to those dumb things, creating affidavits with specific witnesses and proceeding to get rid of Sam in an orderly fashion that cannot be disputed...” The email goes on to call for a conversation about longer-term strategy.

The petition states this “clearly indicates that Ms. Goldberg is working in concert with at least two other town officials to undermine and attempt to oust the Town Administrator. Such behavior undermines confidence in Town Government and is utterly and completely unacceptable in any circumstance. The Town of Hope deserves better.”

The new recall process, approved in the November election, calls for five residents to request the recall petition and form the petitioner’s committee. Molly Luce, Wayne Luce, Jessica Snyder, Todd Snyder and Paul Smith formed that group for these petitions. Molly Luce, Amy Powers and John Monroe circulated the petitions. Powers is married to Vice Chair of the Select Board Brian Powers and Paul Smith to Chair Sarah Ann Smith.

The petitioners needed 98 signatures. They brought in 106 for Haffner and 103 for Goldberg.

We asked Haffner how he felt when he realized he was being recalled.

“Shocked,” he said. “Sarah, sitting as chair, had asked for petitions to be passed. State code only allows recalls for criminal acts. My crime is I fought for the taxpayers. I fought the concealment of a new $1 million contract ($500,000 over what doing it ourselves would cost), likely second biggest in Hope’s history. …The snow contract wasn’t disclosed on the ballot, the budget committee opposition to the contract, 7-0 against, was subverted…, the info meeting notice to discuss it was botched, the snow bid was up 68%, summer road work was cut 32% and hardly anyone knew.”

He also raised concerns about the town meeting election of 2020. “We botched the ballot counting and over half of those who voted absentee seem to have skipped voting on the referenda. We had a 26% drop off from the state bond vote to the town hall referenda: the biggest drop off in towns around us was 1.5% and the average was under 1%. The state investigated the vote but never asked me about it.”

Elinor Goldberg

Also, in the controversy has been Goldberg, a Democrat who has lived in the town for about 50 years and ran for the Legislature in 2016.

Goldberg is retired, according to previous VillageSoup articles. She was director of the Maine Children’s Alliance for 17 years. She was educated as a social worker at the University of Connecticut and has held many jobs in Maine including house-painting contractor, substance abuse counselor, video producer/director and child protective services worker.

Goldberg has served on the Maine Child Care Advisory Council, the MaineCare Advisory Council and the Leadership Council for Voices for America’s Children. She has also been a board member of the Belfast Area Child Care Center and of the regional Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.

Voters in House District 95 chose Republican Paula Sutton over Goldberg in 2016, but Goldberg won in her hometown of Hope that year.

Hope’s recall ordinance

Asked who wrote the town’s recall ordinance, Mank said, “This is unknown as it was submitted as a citizen’s initiative. The original petition circulators were: John Monroe, Amy Powers, and Molly Luce.”

We also asked if the town attorney signed off on the recall ordinance. Mank responded, “Since the ordinance was proposed by submitting petitions to the Select Board asking it to go be the voters, no changes to the proposal were permissible.”

Asked what other town recall ordinances were used as models for the recall ordinance, she said, “This is unknown, possibly pieces from more than one town. It is also somewhat similar to Lincolnville as well.”

Unless a town has its own specific recall ordinance, under state law, elected officials can only be recalled if they are convicted of a crime, while in office, according to information provided by the Maine Municipal Association.

“While recall may be appropriate in some cases, it is not necessarily the right response to every political dispute,” a 2013 article in MMA’s magazine states. “If your community is considering a recall ordinance or charter provision, we recommend that the number of petition signatures required be set high enough to prevent a small minority from forcing frivolous or repetitive recall elections. We also recommend that the petition not be required to cite a specific reason for the recall, as this could inadvertently convert what is essentially a political decision into a due process proceeding, complete with potential for court appeals.”

Maine Municipal Association took “a firm stand against” a 2017 effort by lawmakers to create a recall policy for the state, according to an article in the Portland Press Herald. “It said town charters already govern recalls and that recalls require a lot of administrative work.”

MMA went on to say, according to the article, “recalls are initiated as much to cause political and partisan mischief as they are to root out an incompetent or otherwise inappropriate elected official.”

Haffner said he would not seek a legal remedy if he were recalled.

Closing arguments

We offered members of the Select Board and Mank an opportunity to make a statement concerning the recall. Chair Sarah Ann Smith sent an email May 6 saying she was speaking as a citizen, not as chair of the board.

“To begin with the conclusion: as a citizen of Hope, I believe that both Bruce Haffner and Elinor Goldberg have, at a minimum, behaved unethically and in a way that undermines Town Government. Hope is so much better than the behavior that some exhibited in 2020 and early 2021, so I stand my statements of last December calling on them to resign. Since they did not, a number of citizens prepared and signed petitions for their recall, believing as I do that their continued role as elected officials should come to an end.

“In December 2020, speaking as a private citizen and not as Chair of the Town of Hope Select Board, I called on both Select Board (SB) Member Bruce Haffner and Budget Committee [member] Elinor Goldberg to resign, and I write today in the same role, as a private citizen of Hope. That December statement was the culmination of a trying year for Hope government because a small handful of very vocal citizens made numerous allegations against the Town Administrator and others, attempted to undermine both the Select Board and the Town Office staff, and generally caused a whole lot of unnecessary drama, turmoil and expense to the taxpayers of Hope (over $16,000!).

“As a result of the allegations and complaints, the Hope Select Board felt the best avenue was to engage an attorney who is an expert in municipal government and related matters to conduct an independent inquiry that occurred from September through December. That independent inquiry found no cause for discipline or dismissal of any town employee, therefore the inquiry findings remain part of a confidential personnel record and cannot, by law, be released. The Select Board presented its report and recommendations to the public on December 22; that report can be found on the Town website (hopemaine.org) under Select Board Minutes and Meeting Documents.

“The problems began early in 2020 when Mr. Haffner disagreed with the majority SB decision on snow plowing. By July, Mr. Haffner was conducting a campaign going door to door and handing out flyers attempting to undermine the majority decision of the Select Board; this action subverts the proper functioning of town government and could even put the town in legal jeopardy because the SB, including Mr. Haffner, had signed a legal contract for plowing. By mid-July (just before the delayed election) things escalated to the point that Bruce Haffner threatened fellow Select Board Member Brian Powers (then Chair of the SB), Roads Commissioner John Monroe, and Town Administrator Samantha Mank (this threat is recorded). As a SB member, Mr. Haffner is one of Ms. Mank’s supervisors. Additionally, among many other actions, he discussed her personnel performance with members of the public, which is contrary to Maine law which states that personnel matters are confidential. In any other situation, Mr. Haffner would likely have been fired or faced disciplinary action immediately if he worked in a public (non-elected), educational or private setting.

“The troubles expanded when a probationary employee [Willauer] was dismissed in early August for not meeting the standards needed for the job. Over the next few days, based on documents that are public and are in the SB meeting minutes, it was clear that the dismissed employee, Bruce Haffner and Elinor Goldberg, among others, were involved in a concerted effort to undermine both the Select Board and Ms. Mank and to get Ms. Mank dismissed as evidenced by emails written by Ms. Goldberg. As I noted above, the inquiry exonerated Ms. Mank from any intentional wrongdoing. I believe it is unethical in the extreme for people to engage in back-room dealings, attempting to smear people for whatever reasons they think they had. Those reasons were found—as I anticipated they would be from the day the complaints were first aired—to be without merit.

“Many citizens in Hope were so concerned about they were witnessing; they crafted and presented a petition to the Select Board to enact an ordinance that would allow voters to recall elected officials since Hope had no ordinance or other way to remove elected officials short of their term expiring. The Select Board received the petition and, since everything had been done legally, it was placed on the November ballot and passed. Immediately after the ordinance passed, several citizens circulated petitions calling for the recall of both Mr. Haffner and Ms. Goldberg. These petitions also met all the legal requirements, so they were scheduled for a vote. The Select Board decided to use the option to include the recalls with the regularly scheduled municipal election in June (rather than sooner) because of both cost and health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because I believe that Mr. Haffner and Ms. Goldberg behaved unethically, I still call on them to resign; if they continue to decline to do so, I hope the citizens of Hope will recall them from office. Honestly, it makes me so sad to find myself having to say such a thing. I expected far better of them, and Hope deserves far better than some of what it has witnessed over the past 12 months. I look forward to a better year.”

“I feel like Fauci,” Haffner said. “He waited for people to come to power who could understand science. I'm waiting for citizens in Hope who understand economics to step up and ask to see what things should cost instead of just paying the invoice. Until then I'll suffer the name calling and silly attacks intended to divert attention from poor decision making.

“I'm asking my supporters to not vote on the recall. Not voting is better than a no vote. It registers disgust with the process. It also likely prevents passage. The recall group missed an important point when they copied the Lincolnville recall ordinance: to recall Eli and/or me they need both a majority and a total votes cast number of 381 (40% of votes cast in Mills election).”

Residents will decide in a secret ballot June 8. Polls will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | May 14, 2021 21:41

Sorry to see things are still hopeless in Hope. If it is any consolation it isn't all peaches and cream in Rockland either... especially from a taxpayers point of view.



Posted by: Paul Smith | May 14, 2021 18:43

This is a group comment from Citizens of Hope

 

Mr. Haffner and Ms. Goldberg acted unethically and have betrayed the implicit trust placed in them by virtue of their positions in our town.  Their behavior is a disgrace to their offices, and they should be removed from Town government.

Mr. Haffner’s unethical behavior has betrayed his position as a Selectman and the people of Hope, whom he promised to serve.

He has undercut the Select Board and pushed out deceptive misleading information to serve his own agenda.  Under the guise of saving money for the town, twelve months later, Mr. Haffner has no plan and his “numbers” have fallen very short.

Mr. Haffner created a hostile work environment for our town employees and contractors by threatening and scheming with his fellow conspirators  to oust Samantha Mank, our Town Administrator and putting our town in potential legal jeopardy.

Speaking of conspirators, Ms. Goldberg’s efforts to oust Samantha Mank are clearly exposed in her email….

“So, here is the deal, we can make a huge mess of it by not keeping our powder dry and collecting all the dumb things Sam has done and getting witnesses to those dumb things, creating affidavits with specific witnesses, and proceeding to get rid of Sam in an orderly fashion that cannot be disputed…”

This said while communicating with a recently terminated town employee and a sitting Selectman, they are discussing ways to get rid of our Town Administrator!!  Ms. Goldberg’s scheming and plotting give new meaning to the words underhanded, unethical, and unacceptable.  Ask yourself if you would tolerate this kind of behavior from an employee, boss, or organization.

To be crystal clear, the recall petitions have been filed by citizens to protect the integrity of our town.  Mr. Haffner and Ms. Goldberg have proven they lack integrity and refuse to be held accountable to the positions they hold in our community.

On June 8th we have an opportunity to right a wrong.  Please come out and vote to remove both Haffner and Goldberg.   Together we can restore integrity to our town



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