WOODLAND, Maine — Woodland’s bank accounts are not balanced and many crucial records are unaccounted for, according to the town’s newest employees.
Woodland’s town office reopened Monday after being closed for two months. The Select Board had closed the office in mid-March after the former tax collector/treasurer and clerk resigned. The town hired Perham administrator Sue Skidgell in April but fired her after only one day due to an undisclosed personnel issue.
A lack of consistent staff has delayed completion of the town’s annual audit and budget meeting, typically held in mid-March. Residents have been registering vehicles and renewing hunting and fishing licenses in New Sweden. They were unable to pay taxes until this week when Woodland’s town office reopened.
Vicki Page was hired April 28 as the new tax collector, treasurer and administrative assistant for the Select Board. Page most recently served as quality assurance manager at Loring Job Corps in Limestone. She previously worked as a clerk, tax collector, treasurer and interim town manager in Limestone.
Bridget Coats was hired May 10 as the new town clerk. She most recently worked as a teller at NorState Federal Credit Union. She worked in the Van Buren town office as a bookkeeper, front office supervisor, deputy clerk and deputy General Assistance administrator from 2007 to 2010. She was interim town manager in Van Buren from September to October 2009.
The town had been without permanent staff since former clerk Emily Brooks and former tax collector/treasurer Christina Kidney resigned. Kidney had been hired in February to replace former tax collector Amber Moutinho, who resigned in September.
It did not take long for Page and Coats to notice discrepancies within town operations, both said in a memo to Select Board members Harold Tardy and Thomas Drew.
Drew read the memo during the latest Select Board meeting held Tuesday. In it, Page and Coats claim that the town’s bank statements have not been reconciled since January.
“We are working on accounts payable and have found several outstanding bills,” Drew said.
Town officials did not elaborate on what bills have gone unpaid or if those are connected to recent staff departures.
According to Page and Coats, voter registration records have not been properly updated in the state’s central voter registration system. That could mean that some residents might not be legally registered to vote in local elections.
The employees also claim that the town has not updated dog registration records since 2010 nor has it kept up with General Assistance program requirements.
General Assistance is an income-based state program that helps individual people and families pay for basic needs such as food, utility bills, rent, home mortgages, medical or dental bills. Residents must apply through their local municipality, which sets aside General Assistance funds in their yearly budget.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services requires that municipalities designate an employee to serve as General Assistance administrator. That person, often a town clerk, meets with potential program recipients and submits applications and proof of a client’s qualifications to DHHS.
Page and Coats found that Woodland has not submitted General Assistance records to Maine DHHS since 2020.
“This has delayed the town’s General Assistance reimbursement [from DHHS],” Drew said.
The Select Board appears to have signed but not formally approved an updated General Assistance ordinance for 2022, Page and Coats said.
Drew addressed the town’s problems on his personal Facebook page in recent posts.
In one post, Drew published Kidney’s and colleague Janet Schofield’s joint resignation letter. After Moutinho resigned in September, Schofield, a former town employee, stepped up to assist with tax collection prior to Kidney’s hiring.
In their letter, Kidney and Schofield claim that recent employees, whom they do not name, were not following proper legal procedures for documenting office transactions.
“We cannot be associated with the illegal matters and corruption that have taken place,” Kidney and Schofield wrote.
In other posts Drew, relates concerns that Kidney shared about town office operations, which echo those of Page and Coats.
For instance, one employee allegedly did not conduct a mandatory weekly inventory of Bureau of Motor Vehicle stickers, Kidney said.
“I then took it upon myself to reconcile the stickers. It started with around 25 stickers. One license plate and one special registration were off,” Kidney said. “This should have been caught years ago.”
Drew said that the Select Board has “evidence” against former employees that could lead to legal action.
For instance, vital records were given to residents without the proper applications being filled out first, Drew claimed. Employee personnel files and Select Board minutes often went missing and reappeared without explanation.
The town hopes to eventually bring the evidence before a Bangor judge, rather than a Caribou judge, to ensure an objective decision is made, Drew said.
Drew declined to comment on which employees allegedly mishandled town records.
“The truth will come out,” he said after several residents pressed for more information.
Though residents were relieved to learn of the town office’s reopening, many were concerned that the latest news could negatively affect local morale.
“I just want us to move forward in a positive way and get back on track,” said Woodland resident Kevin Chapman.