Falmouth officials weigh options for dealing with critic

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FALMOUTH — Town officials are responding publicly to Shady Lane resident Michael Doyle’s accusations of nepotism, corruption and mismanagement in town government.

“His engagement has gone far beyond asking for public records,” Town Manager Nathan Poore said Tuesday, “and in some cases has included attacks and other offensive statements that affect employee morale and, ultimately, employee performance.”

Doyle, who finished last among six candidates in the School Board election in June, frequently speaks during the public comment portions of Town Council and School Board meetings. His comments are often argumentative, accusatory and critical of town staff and elected officials, and he is also a frequent political advertiser in The Forecaster.

Some town officials have felt so threatened by Doyle that they have asked that a police officer be present for all Town Council and School Board meetings. That special patrol costs approximately $150 per meeting. In April, the bill was $621.

He also frequently corresponds with town and School Department staff via email, asking questions and demanding responses.

“This is why I’m currently considering how to manage the multiple requests per day,” Poore said. “This has become a productivity issue.”

Doyle, who has been an outspoken critic of town government for almost two years, said he’s not doing this for the attention, or to harass anyone.

“I do it as a public service more than anything else,” he said this week.

In a recent email to School Board members and town councilors, Doyle said he observed a “significant gap” in the school’s email system and that it was unlikely they would be able to identify the problem.

“I won’t say why they won’t because that hint might give them what they need to fix it,” the email said. It goes on to state that “instead, sometime in the future I’ll exploit this weakness.”

Doyle said his message was a warning, not a threat.

“I’m just trying to do the right thing for the town,” he said.

Doyle has also recently alleged that a town employee stole a snow blower this spring. He said he knows who did it, but will not reveal that information to police.

“I can’t say because it would compromise my source,” Doyle said, adding that revealing the name of the person he believes stole the snow blower would lead police directly back to his source.

Police Chief Edward Tolan said Tuesday that the town is investigating the alleged theft of the snow blower, worth more than $2,000, and expressed frustration with Doyle’s refusal to reveal information that might help solve the case.

“He wants to play games,” Tolan said. “He sent me an email that said ‘My source says you’re getting warmer.’ We don’t play charades here.”

Tolan said Detective Wayne Geyer is in charge of the investigation, and that the detective has conducted more than 10 interviews.

“Geyer has spent more time on this case than a typical theft case,” Tolan said, “because if it is a town employee, we need to know that.”

Doyle also alleged, in an email titled “Nepotism in Falmouth,” that the hiring of Tolan’s son, James Tolan, in 2008 as a park ranger violated town policy because the police chief has indirect authority over the position.

“You can’t waive rules otherwise there’s no sense in having them,” Doyle said.

Poore said he waived the rules because of the special circumstances under which James Tolan was hired. Poore said the assistant harbormaster was called away to the U.S. Coast Guard, and Chief Tolan suggested his son could help fill the gap for the season.

“If I had waited until we posted the position, waited a couple weeks for resumes, interviewed candidates, it would have been the end of the season,” Poore said.

So, he said, he posted the position internally, asked employees to spread the word that there was a seasonal position available, and waited a couple of days. He received two applications and hired the most appropriate candidate.

Poore said he met extensively with his staff to make sure James Tolan was not reporting to his father, or that James Tolan’s supervisor wasn’t answering directly to Chief Tolan. With three supervisors between the son and the father, and clear direction any issues were to go to the town’s human resources staff, Poore said he felt comfortable with the decision.

“If it was any other circumstances, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said.

James Tolan still works for the town. Poore said it’s his policy not to advertise seasonal positions each year if the employee from the previous year returns and has been a good employee.

“He was an excellent employee, he worked out well, there were no issues,” Poore said. “I didn’t want to treat him different (and advertise the position the following year, just) because he was the police chief’s son.”

In his correspondence with town and school employees, Doyle frequently states “This is a FOAA request,” even if the email does not request government documents, which is what Maine’s Freedom of Access Act governs.

Doyle said he includes this in case the answers to his questions exist in a public document.

“When I get answers to questions, they’re either incomplete or lies,” Doyle said. “I have to pry each answer out.”

Because Doyle has threatened litigation in the past when his requests have not been answered to his satisfaction, the town and schools frequently consult with the town attorney when answering his FOAA requests. The attorney billed more than $1,200 for FOAA-related work in April.

Doyle said his ads in The Forecaster are intended to convince town and school officials to give him the information he is requesting.

“I tell them, ‘If this conduct continues, this is the ad I’m going to run,'” Doyle said.

He said he has sent some town officials copies of advertisements he will run if they don’t answer his questions.

“I don’t consider it a threat,” he said.

Town officials disagree.

“Last week, there were three threats to town employees,” Poore said. “He’ll send an email that says, ‘If you don’t do this, this, and this, this is the ad I’m going to run.'”

While Poore said he doesn’t believe Doyle is a physical threat, he does feel some of his actions qualify as psychological abuse of town employees.

“I can’t subject the employees to that kind of intimidation on a regular basis,” he said.

Last year, after a flurry of FOAA requests from Doyle, the town developed a policy for handling those requests. Now, Poore said he’s working with his staff on a way to address Doyle’s more aggressive tactics.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.