It’s been a politically tumultuous spring for the small town of Thomaston, which in the past has been known more for its historic Route 1 downtown than any type of political controversy.
However, following the unexpected resignation of longtime town manager Val Blastow last month, a selectboard member and a newly elected member of the board of assessors have submitted resignation letters.
Selectperson Beverly St. Clair, who resigned almost exactly a year after she was elected, and her business partner, Scott Johnson — who was elected Tuesday to serve on the board of assessors — drew criticism in Blastow’s resignation letter, including accusations that they tried to “get rid” of the former town manager. St. Clair has said the accusation, among others in the letter, is false.
From the day her name appeared on the ballot in June 2018, St. Clair said she has felt that people within town government did not want her to be there. The day after she was elected, St. Clair said she went to Blastow’s office to ask what she needed to know about town government. His response was, “Nothing I can think of,” she said.
She said she was then given the runaround on how to get items onto selectboard meeting agendas and was treated with “snappy and sassy” behavior from the board’s chair.
“This behavior toward me was consistent as some sort of an initiation period,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair and Johnson co-own Thomaston Recycling, a recycling business on Butler Road. In his resignation letter, Blastow said the business has code violations that have not been resolved and that these violations were why St. Clair and Johnson “waged an aggressive assault” on his character.
In response to Blastow’s resignation and accusations, St. Clair said Thomaston Recycling has never been served a violation notice by the town. While a formal violation notice has never been served to the business, Thomaston Code Enforcement Officer Bill Wasson said he has informally notified the owners of violations during the past three years. The town’s attorney is currently looking into the matter, Wasson said.
Following Blastow’s resignation, some residents circulated a petition aimed at prompting a recall election for St. Clair. Thomaston Town Clerk Kara George confirmed Thursday that petitioners delivered 144 signatures to the town office.
“We had to resign because at this point we have a business to run, and we need to take care of our life,” St. Clair said. “Living in this town knowing that people are willing to sign things to say how much they hate you, we didn’t sign up for [that].”
St. Clair said she believes a lot of pushback she has received, including the petition, stems from an incident in November when her car was keyed while she was serving as a ballot clerk. When the sheriff’s office deputy investigating the incident asked St. Clair if she was having problems with anyone she said, “no one I can think of, just some board stuff” with another member. The deputy then went to that selectperson’s house to ask questions.
“I’m taking this horrible wrath, not because of the job I did, but because of this one act that they feel as my fault,” St. Clair said. “But it was my car that was vandalized.”
While Blastow said a “toxic work environment” has formed in Thomaston during the past year — the time since St. Clair was elected to the five-person board — St. Clair defended how she performed her job and argued that the environment existed before she joined the board.
“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 a selectperson. I don’t believe town business has changed over the years. The public is just more aware of it now,” St. Clair wrote in a statement sent in response to Blastow’s resignation last month.
In her statement, St. Clair also said that if Blastow feels “threatened” by her approach to serving on the selectboard, “that’s on him.”
In a class offered by the Maine Municipal Association, St. Clair said she learned that the organization recommends that towns get a new auditor every three to five years and that the auditor should never be selected by the town’s treasurer. However, Thomaston has used the same auditor for decades, and that individual was chosen by Blastow, who also served as the town treasurer.
When St. Clair brought up the possibility of getting a new auditor, she said the idea was not even discussed, which she viewed as a red flag.
“The desperation for them to get rid of me is beyond anything I’ve done,” St. Clair said. “I have pushed issues. I have pushed ordinances, and I do want state laws to be followed. I will admit I’ve been very pushy on that.”
Blastow left his position June 6, but at a June 10 selectboard meeting, the board discussed a motion to “allow the town manager” to sign two quit-claim deeds to release tax liens on properties. Chairman Peter Lammert said Blastow signed the deeds on his last day, pending approval by the board.
St. Clair was the only board member to express concern over the fact that he had signed quit-claim deeds before receiving approval from the board.
Had Blastow not left his post, it would have been procedure for him to sign the documents at the meeting after receiving approval from the town’s governing body.
“That doesn’t seem quite right,” she said.
However, the other four members of the board voted in favor of the motion without questioning the legality of the signature. St. Clair abstained from the vote.
Earlier this week, Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll raised concerns about how important town business was being handled in Thomaston. On Tuesday, voters in Thomaston supported keeping their own police department instead of shifting to sheriff’s office coverage.
However, on the eve of the vote, Carroll expressed dismay that town officials — including selectboard members and the former town manager — ignored his numerous requests to sit down to discuss in depth what that coverage would look like.
The selectboard has not yet accepted the resignations from St. Clair and Johnson, which were submitted Tuesday, according to the town clerk. The board will consider the resignations at a meeting later this month.