SOUTH PORTLAND — An attorney representing the city’s director of public works and cultural services says his client has been exonerated and will return to work, although the city manager declined to provide confirmation.
Gregg Frame, a Portland labor and employment attorney, was hired in May to represent Dana Anderson after citizens and a former employee raised questions about the way he managed his departments.
Frame on Wednesday said reports from two investigations have cleared Anderson, who has been on paid administrative leave since May 8, of any claims against him and the city.
Although Frame said the city has contacted Anderson about returning to work, City Manager Jim Gailey said he could not comment because the matter is a personnel issue
Meanwhile, Frame seems to be building a potential defamation case against some city councilors.
Frame said he has received Anderson’s personnel file as well as DVDs and minutes from recent City Council meetings to investigate whether “certain councilors” crossed the line in their criticisms about Anderson. Frame specifically pointed to public exchanges in which some councilors accused others of seeking “a pound of flesh” in retaliation for the layoffs of five city employees in February.
“There’s a fine line between doing your job and going beyond that,” Frame said. “(The records) would be pretty helpful if there is to be any case of defamation action
or going beyond the scope of one’s authority as a city councilor.”
Frame would not identify the councilors by name during a phone interview. His letter requesting Anderson’s personnel file specifically mentioned Mayor Tom Blake and Councilor Jim Soule.
Although concerned about possible defamation of character, Frame said he does not believe Anderson is planning to take legal action against the city at this time.
“I think he’s looking forward to getting back to work and putting the past behind him,” Frame said. “But that’s not to say that, if stuff like what has happened rears itself again, he won’t avail himself of legal remedies.”
The latest developments may signal the end of months of suspicion about Anderson’s ability to adequately manage departments with a consolidated budget of $9 million. Those departments are Public Works, Parks and Recreation and Libraries.
Management questions were raised following the layoffs of five veteran employees in February, four of whom worked in Anderson’s departments.
Deb Smith, former operations manager for the Recreation Center, filed a formal complaint with the city, prompting an independent review of Anderson’s department. Before the report was issued, Smith called on the city to make the findings available to the public, but the city argued state law considers the report a confidential personnel file that cannot be released.
Gailey has repeatedly said Smith, who has a copy of the report, is free to release it. Smith and her attorney have refused to do so.
Last week, Smith said she was “not impressed” with the personnel report and that she and her attorney are still trying to arrange a meeting with Gailey. Although Smith argues the report did not address all of her concerns, Gailey said the independent investigation by human resource specialist Michael Wing, which cost $7,000, was thorough and none of Smith’s claims were unexplored.
Meanwhile, the city initiated an independent review of its internal financial controls after it became known that Anderson had settled a lawsuit accusing him of embezzling more than $35,000 from a non-profit group. Anderson maintained his innocence, but settled the lawsuit by paying $900.
The one-page financial review was completed last week by MacDonald, Page & Co. of South Portland. The report, released on Tuesday, June 23, said a review was conducted over how cash receipts are handled at the Community Center, transfer facility, Municipal Golf Course and Wainwright fields.
The report was issued with the stipulation that it did not qualify as an full-blown audit, which the city performs annually. The firm said no opinions or assurances about the effectiveness of financial controls or statements could be made. The scope of work was set, Gailey said, by city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux.
“Because we did not perform a detailed examination of all transactions, our engagement cannot be expected to detect fraud,” the report said.
The report goes on to say that Anderson has limited involvement in handling cash receipts and no discrepancies were found. Only minor deficiencies in internal controls were found and opportunities to make improvements have been communicated to the city, the report said.
Gailey, who would not comment on whether Anderson would return to work, said he would soon deliver a public statement.
SOUTH PORTLAND – Although he declined to immediately discuss the results of investigations into the performance of Public Works and Cultural Services Director Dana Anderson, City Manager Jim Gailey told the City Council in a June 18 memo that the following personnel and policy changes have been made at City Hall:
• Tim Gato, who was recently appointed deputy director of Public Works and Cultural Services, is now the assistant to the director. Gailey said the change in title is meant to stem criticism that Gato was hand-selected to be “heir apparent” to the director’s job. Gailey pledged that if and when the director position opens up, it will be advertised regionally and Gato or any other city employee will be able to apply.
• City staff has been directed to establish a policy and fee schedule for the use of Wainwright Farms. The city currently does not charge for use of the fields, but organizations are encouraged to make donations to show their appreciation. Gailey said the changes will provide consistency and fairness in deciding who is allowed field time.
• All donations for Wainwright Farms must now be formally accepted by the City Council, which publicly accepts donations to other departments. Gailey said staffers were not aware the donations needed formal acceptance from the council, but noted the department had its own procedure for documenting donations.