South Portland suspends employee for clearing private Scarborough driveway

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A city employee was suspended for a week without pay after City Manager Scott Morelli saw a Feb. 21 video of the employee plowing and sanding the Scarborough driveway of former Code Enforcement Officer Patricia Doucette.

“Abusing public resources damages the trust that members of the public have in their city government and instances like this are entirely unacceptable,” Morelli said this week.

The suspension stems from one of two reviews of recent incidents involving city vehicles. Both were initially reported by a single anonymous source who contacted The Forecaster and city councilors. 

Morelli did not identify the employee who was suspended. The video clearly shows a city truck clearing and salting at Doucette’s Powderhorn Drive home. 

Doucette, who retired from her city job in 2017, did not return calls asking about how her driveway was cleared.

“While this is the only incident I am aware of in my two years as city manager that involves misuse of public resources, I am committed to ensuring nothing like this happens again,” Morelli said.

He added he has told municipal department heads to review city policies with staff, and the policies will be reviewed again in ethics training sessions later this year.

“Incidents like this in the future will be grounds for discipline, up to and including termination from employment,” Morelli said.

The second review centers on a December 2018 accident involving a Fire Department truck, Ladder 42, based at the Willard Engine and Ladder Company on Pillsbury Street.

In a Feb. 22 email to Morelli, city Fire Chief James Wilson said allegations contained in an anonymous email about extensive damage to Ladder 42 and the Pillsbury Street fire station were false.

“The best I can come up with was there was a minor event where L-42 brushed up against the side of the building in the middle of December, which damaged glass on a window on the building,” Wilson said.

Wilson said a city employee, not a firefighter, was returning the truck to the fire station after some repair work.

“Other than the crack to the window, there was no damage to the building,” Wilson said in a Feb. 26 email. “The truck brushed up against a plastic city trash container, which caused the lid to flip open and by dumb luck hit the window just right and cracked it. To my knowledge the truck never touched the building.” 

Ladder 42 was never taken out of service after the accident, Wilson said.

The accident will be reviewed again, Morelli said.

“Relatively minor (incidents) like this are not always reported directly to me, and that’s OK,” he said Feb. 22. “I do eventually review them at our quarterly executive safety committee meetings.”

An Oct. 30, 2018, accident at the Cash Corner fire station totaled the city’s new $1.1 million ladder truck during a training session. An investigation by Safety Coordinator Louis Cavallaro determined inattention by the driver and lack of a spotter outside the truck led to it striking a power line on Skillings Avenue.

The resulting power surge caused a fire and destroyed the truck’s wiring, Morelli said in a subsequent news release.

After receiving the recent anonymous emails, city councilors said they were confident Morelli and staff would handle things properly.

“If (the chief’s response) suffices with Scott, it’s OK with me,” Councilor Sue Henderson said in a Feb. 22 email. “It sounds like it’s being dealt with.”

Councilor Misha Pride said he was eager to hear results of the plowing investigation, and said these were the first anonymous emails he has received since being elected last November.

“I appreciate when people put their names on it,” Pride said “It’s important that we get accurate information and investigate all allegations … (but) it feels like this person may have some kind of agenda.”

Jocelyn Van Saun contributed to this story. David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

A still image from a video made Feb. 21 shows a South Portland city vehicle spreading salt on the driveway a Scarborough home owned by Patricia Doucette, South Portland’s former code enforcement officer.

South Portland Fire Chief James Wilson said a December 2018 accident at the Pillsbury Street fire station led to a broken window, but caused no other building damage and only minor damage to Ladder 42.

A Feb. 21 photo sent to South Portland officials shows the result after a city vehicle cleared the Scarborough driveway of South Portland’s former code enforcement officer, Pat Doucette. The unidentified driver was suspended a week without pay.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.