Joel Moulton has been fired as Eliot's public works director. Credit: Ralph Morang | The York Weekly

ELIOT, Maine — The Select Board released the termination letter sent to fired Public Works Director Joel Moulton, and his attorney is arguing the town’s decision process was flawed.

The termination letter also states Town Manager Dana K. Lee recused himself from involvement in the investigation because “he may have been implicated in future proceedings resulting from this investigation.”

Moulton was fired July 24 following a conflict of interest investigation.

The letter states the Select Board met with Moulton and his attorney Gregg Frame of Taylor, McCormack and Frame of Portland, in executive session July 24.

The letter states the meeting was held to provide Moulton a chance to respond to the investigation’s findings that he violated the Town Charter and certain town policies, “including but not limited to the town’s conflict of interest and purchasing policies.”

“Obliviously, we disagree fiercely with the findings of the board,” Frame said Friday.

The letter, drafted by Town Attorney Ann Freeman of the Bernstein Shur law firm in Portland, was dated Aug. 5 and sent to the Portsmouth Herald Thursday, Aug. 8. It is signed by Select Board Chair Richard Donhauser.

[Selectman raises alarm after town awards $27K contract to public works director’s relative]

Allegations against Moulton include that he has a relationship with Sturgeon Creek Holdings, a sewage system service and plumbing company that has done work for the town; that he is part owner of AJM Enterprise, which rents a building to Sturgeon Creek; that a vendor, Dover Motor Mart, owned by a relative of Moulton provided service and parts to public works trucks; that another vendor, Son’s Plumbing, is owned by a relative of Moulton’s; that Moulton works part time for Genest Concrete, a town vendor, and did not disclose that relationship to Lee, and that Moulton solicited Genest Concrete for a public works job in the spring of this year, and according to the letter, “directed Genest to break the job into smaller jobs so that the project would not have to be put out to bid.”

The town purchasing policy requires at least three bids for any expenditure of more than $5,000.

Frame said he was looking forward to an appeal and called the town’s process “convoluted and inappropriate.”

The Town Charter provides no process for an appeal, but the termination letter stated the Select Board “is willing to provide [Moulton] with an appeal hearing which shall be held in executive session for the purpose of determining whether the Select Board’s decision was in error.”

Frame claims the “Select Board is judge, jury and executioner” if the same five members who terminated Moulton hold an appeal hearing. He said a town is supposed to have a policy with definite levels of review including a pre-termination hearing, an appeal and a final termination hearing.

Frame said his goal is to have an appeal in open session to remove the “cloak of secrecy.”

“They [the Select Board] are not allowing that,” he said.

Frame said he has made Freedom of Access Act requests for what he calls “inappropriate voicemails and emails” between Select Board members, members of the public and town employees.

“It is a question of bias,” he said. “We were told the town manager recused himself; that is not accurate, he was recused.”

The termination letter states Lee recused himself from involvement in the investigation due to his “potential involvement as a material witness and the fact that he may have been implicated in future proceedings resulting from this investigation.”

Frame said the town’s attitude is, “Our charter is screwed up so we make this up as we go along.”

Frame said the alternative to an appeal hearing held by the Select Board is to go to Superior Court through Maine Rules of Procedure, Rule 80B, a way to appeal state and local administrative action.

The investigation into Moulton’s alleged conflicts followed multiple concerns.

[Eliot fires its public works director over alleged conflicts of interest]

In January, the Select Board approved an emergency repair to a plow truck engine by Dover Motor Mart for $26,969 after Moulton obtained quotes by phone from three vendors. Select Board member Robert McPherson asked why sealed bids were not requested and Lee said it was an emergency and allowed under town policy.

In March, the Select Board approved emergency work on a private Blueberry Lane sewer line that was blocked and Moulton engaged Sturgeon Creek Enterprises and another company to fix it.

On April 11, resident Diane Holt presented a letter to the board that asked why Moulton has not been fired. “His conflicts of interest are known to many town residents, both concerning the Dover Motor Mart and Sturgeon Creek,” she wrote. “As stated in the charter, the conflicts should have been stated up front.”

She called for an investigation and the board approved one April 11. A week later Moulton was placed on paid administrative leave.

The conflict of interest investigation was placed in the hands of Police Chief Elliott Moya and Town Attorney Freeman. The investigation itself was conducted by Troubh Heisler of Portland.

Select Board members read the final investigation report individually by the beginning of July and held several executive sessions about it, leading to the July 24 “emergency” executive session with Moulton and his attorney at which he was fired.

Moulton has 30 days to appeal the termination, according to the letter.

The termination letter is available to the public through a Freedom of Access Act request at the town office.

Lee at Thursday’s Select Board meeting told the board he will not at present seek outside candidates for the director of public works position. Lee said he has a couple of internal candidates and that the town’s attorney advised holding off on advertising the job because Moulton may appeal the board’s decision.