New Windham review released

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WINDHAM — A second, expanded outside review of concerns raised within the Windham Public Works Department is larger in scope than the first but similar in many of its recommendations. 

The new report from Opus Consulting Group, dated Sept. 17 and provided to the Lakes Region Weekly the following day, follows an earlier outside review conducted by consultant William O’Brien that was initiated by town management and released in March.

“I think both have similarities in them, and we have issues that need to be addressed and corrected,” Windham Town Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman said after the council held a special meeting in executive session followed by a public meeting on Sept. 18. 

The first outside assessment looked into frustrations raised within the Public Works Department. Twenty-seven public works employees were interviewed, including Director Doug Fortier. The Opus review involved interviews with the town manager, director of human resources, three councilors, public works director, three additional management personnel in other town departments and 21 public works employees. 

The second report also discusses an incident at Windham High School March 15, when, during apparent confusion over a canceled lockdown drill, a Windham Police officer apparently broke protocol and told students to get down during a police walk-through of the school. An independent review of the incident was conducted by members of the Lewiston Police Department, but the findings weren’t released to the public.

Town Manager Tony Plante said that personnel information precludes release of the Lewiston Police report. There was no disciplinary action resulting from the incident, he said.

The Opus report found “no indication of an attempt to implement a corrective action plan following the WHS incident or inform the public of details of the incident.”

Despite the difference in scope, many of the Opus report’s observations, conclusions and recommendations resemble O’Brien’s assessment of the Public Works Department. 

“There is not a single root cause to problems in the PWD but rather a systemic breakdown in the effective chain of command resulting from a lack of open communication and trust,” reads the Opus report executive summary. “Key relationships are broken preventing conflict resolution and change management from occurring.”

The O’Brien report found a need for more leadership, communication, accountability and trust within the department. It also outlined various steps to deal with those issues through a corrective action plan.

The second review similarly calls for an action plan to institute a cultural change within the department. 

“Improving management’s effectiveness in the Public Works Department will be established by implementing a Cultural Change Initiative with the primary goal to refocus efforts towards serving Windham residents,” reads the Opus report’s closing remarks. “The success of a corrective action plan hinges on ongoing support from the Town Council and Town Manager to set the tone and exhibit leadership.” 

The council voted 7-0 on July 10 to approve $25,000 for the second review after public works employees and their Teamsters representative were not satisfied with the first, $6,800 review or the town management’s response in implementing the corrective action plan. Employees eventually voted no confidence in department and town leadership while calling on the council to intervene.

“I’m disappointed that we spent $25,000 to confirm what a previous report already said,” Councilor Tim Nangle said Tuesday night, adding that he felt the council “interrupted” the process started by the initial report. 

“This report was a waste of taxpayer money by certain councilors trying to find a vehicle to attack town staff,” Councilor Jarrod Maxfield said, noting that the report makes recommendations about how the council can focus more on strategic issues. He said the council “instead got a scolding ourselves.” 

Both Maxfield and Nangle voted to authorize funding for the second review this summer. Both have also criticized and clashed with current council leadership.

Councilor Dennis Welch agreed the second review “does mirror the original report” but said the council was right to initiate it given the concerns raised from the Public Works Department after the first review, including a vote of no confidence. 

Welch said the second review “does make me feel better” about the process. 

Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf said Tuesday night that the Sept. 17 Opus document presented to the council did not have to be redacted for public release. The council did receive additional information from the consulting group in executive session, he said.

Chapman said the additional information included specific interviews Opus conducted with employees, which contain personnel information and will not be released outside of executive session. 

At least two members of the Public Works Department were in the audience Tuesday night, hoping for an opportunity to ask about the status of the Opus report and wondering when they would get to see it. They eventually left without addressing the council because Tuesday night’s meeting did not have a section for general public comment on non-agenda items. 

Frank Genthner, a public works employee who serves as steward for the department’s union members, spoke with a Lakes Region Weekly reporter outside the meeting. 

Genthner commended the council for starting the second review, but said it has been “taking way too long to get the results.”

Genthner said he was “really agitated” that a reporter had received a copy of the Opus report while the department had not seen it yet. When asked, he said the employees had not made an official request to review the new report, which was how the reporter obtained it from the town manager. 

“They know we want to see it,” Genthner said about the Opus report, adding that he was interviewed as part of the review. 

Genthner and assistant steward Forrest Lamb followed up the next day and said department members received copies of the report Wednesday. 

“I think this has been watered down severely,” Lamb said. 

Chapman acknowledged Tuesday night that employees might have thought the review was “dragging,” but she defended the process. 

“I truly believe we’re doing the right process,” she said. “We have to be thorough.”

 Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

A second, expanded third-party review is complete in Windham. This second report conducted by Opus Consulting Group follows an initial review by consultant William O’Brien of concerns raised within the Public Works Department. 

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