WINDHAM — A union representative for Windham Public Works employees has asked the town council to intervene after members of the department voted to express no confidence in the Public Works director, town manager and assistant town manager.
In a May 21 letter to the Windham Town Council, Lorne Smith of Teamsters Local 340 says that Town Manager Tony Plante, Assistant Town Manager Phyllis Moss and Public Works Director Doug Fortier “have lost all trust and respect of the crew.”
Smith later clarified that the no confidence vote was called at the public works building after shift, and said seven members present at the time voted to express no confidence in the leadership. He said a total of 11 department drivers, operators and supervisors belong to the union, and that all 11 have since signaled no confidence in leadership.
The department has 27 employees, according to an outside review of the department conducted earlier this year after concerns were raised. Consultant William O’Brien O’Brien’s report identified a need for more leadership, communication, accountability and trust within the department.
Plante said the town has attempted to work with department staff and the union to address concerns.
“Since bringing in a consultant to address concerns in the Public Works Department, the town has been working diligently to address them and has sought the cooperation of both employees and the union,” Plante said in a June 4 email to the Lakes Region Weekly. “We are disappointed that the union has taken this unusual and counterproductive action which does not have any standing under Maine statute.”
In his letter, Smith suggested that O’Brien’s services were a waste of town money and said that O’Brien went on a “rant” against the teamsters representative during a meeting with the department.
“Mr. O’Brien has proven that he is not a neutral observer and the crew has zero faith in the process or his company because of his actions.”
Reached for comment, O’Brien was confident that he has been impartial throughout the review process, which he plans to continue with a follow-up in late summer to gauge whether department members feel there has been an improvement.
“I was fairly critical of the way that the department was being run,” O’Brien said of his report.
O’Brien adding that he told the public works crew that seven people were identified in his interviews as contributing to poor morale, but he didn’t feel it would be productive to name roughly a quarter of the crew.
He speculated that the allegations of a rant were in reference to remarks he made about not being familiar with Smith and suggesting that the teamsters representative didn’t have his facts straight.
O’Brien said he has conducted similar reviews for the Windham in other departments over the years and provided professional development training to town staff, but does not feel his past work with Plante biases him in this review.
O’Brien expressed disappointment in Smith’s recent appeal to the council because he felt that the conversation within the department had been moving in the right direction.
Expanding on allegations that he made in April, Smith’s May 21 letter again asserts that Fortier, the public works director, lied during the arbitration process for Highway Maintenance Supervisor Mike Constantine. Constantine was initially terminated last year then reinstated after arbitration.
When asked in April about Smith’s allegations of lying, Fortier said that didn’t happen.
“That is incorrect — I was truthful,” Fortier said.
Plante alluded to personnel disputes but did not go into detail, saying that “there are personnel matters involved that make it inappropriate for the town – or the union – to comment further.”
The Windham town charter limits direct communication between town councilors and staff “except for the purpose of inquiry.”
Smith said there will be an “informational picket line” at the Windham Town Hall Tuesday, June 12 at 6 p.m.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
A union representative for Windham Public Works Department employees has asked the Town Council to intervene after seven department members signaled no confidence in the town manager, assistant town manager and public works director.