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Conflict of interest delays review of South Portland official; residents urge oversight

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Conflict of interest delays review of South Portland official; residents urge oversight

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday night postponed a closed-door review of Dana Anderson, the director of the largest municipal department, but not before several residents raised questions about  the way Anderson's department is managed.

The postponement came after the council was informed that Anderson's attorney, Thomas Marjerison, works for one of the law firms used by the city, presenting an apparent conflict of interest. 

City Manager Jim Gailey said Anderson, the director of Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Libraries, was not notified about the council's intended personnel review until Friday afternoon and did not have enough time to hire another attorney.

City Councilor Tom Coward said the council must review Anderson and his department, which manages a $9 million budget, in light of Anderson's recent out-of-court settlement of embezzlement charges leveled by a not-for-profit association of basketball officials.

Councilor Jim Soule said the review must be conducted promptly. "This could drag on for some time," Soule said. "People want answers and they want answers now."

The council agreed to reschedule the review for May 18.  

The International Association of Approved Basketball Officials accused Anderson, who served as the organization's treasurer from 1988 to 2003, of embezzling $37,500 and either failing to keep financial records or destroying them. A criminal investigation of Anderson by the Maine State Police produced no charges; Anderson has maintained his innocence, contending that the civil lawsuit was simply a personal vendetta. 

He agreed to pay $900 to settle the case last month, before it went to court. While Anderson's attorney claims the relatively small settlement reflects a lack of merit in the charges, IAABO attorney Robert Smith said the group didn't have the budget to continue the lawsuit.

Despite the settlement, residents and city councilors called for a review of Anderson and his department. But state law allows any employee under review to be present during that review and to be represented by legal counsel. Councilors decided to delay the review for two weeks to give Anderson time to find new representation. 

"If he is not here then (May 18), then we will go ahead with the discussion anyway," Coward said.

The council also tried to go into executive session to discuss the city's "legal rights and duties for financial oversight of the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments." But councilors voted against going behind closed doors after the legality of such a move was questioned by The Forecaster and later several councilors. 

City Attorney Sally Dagget argued the City Council could go into closed session to discuss any "secret" financial controls that need to remain secret in order to be effective. But she also said she didn't "know the extent to which those exist."  

Finance Director Greg L'Hereaux said following the meeting that he understood the sensitivity of publicly discussing personnel matters. However, L'Hereaux said he is not aware of any secret financial controls that would require a closed session. "I didn't feel there was the need for that kind of confidentiality," he said. 

Meanwhile, residents who spoke earlier in the meeting encouraged the council to privately evaluate Anderson, who has worked for the city for more than 30 years. Residents called on the council to investigate not only Anderson's financial management of the department, but this hiring of relatives, the appointment of Tim Gato as deputy director without competitively advertising the newly created position, and allegations of intimidation.

Resident Boyce Sanborn said, in hindsight, he wonders what former City Manager Thaddeus Jankowski may have been uncovering before he resigned in 2007 under heavy scrutiny from the council and some residents.

"I'm a little suspicious of what rocks (Jankowski) was turning over that caused him to be ousted," Sanborne said. "Eliminate these bogus promotions. Eliminate favoritism, abuse and eliminate poor judgement. ... Please, do your jobs. It's financial, not personal." 

Resident Nancy Richardson said she wants to know why donations for the use of Wainwright Farms athletic fields do not require council approval,
like other donations to the city. 

Some residents turned their sights on the city's Human Resource Department for its handling of layoffs and failure to address an apparent conflict of interest in Anderson's department, where his sister-in-law is the recreation secretary and her son works as a public works mechanic. Anderson's sister was also hired last fall to review issues in the Recreation Department.

Edward Knutson, who is retiring from the city's Police Department, asked the council why Anderson's relatives have not been reassigned. Knutson said a similar situation in the Police Department was quickly addressed by city leaders.

"It baffles my mind that this has been allowed to go on," he said. "It wasn't that long ago the deputy police chief had to be removed from the line of supervision when her husband was reassigned."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net