WINDHAM — Residents and town staff members defended longtime Town Manager Tony Plante Tuesday and tore into Town Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman, calling her “a detriment to the town” and saying she “should be ashamed.”
Chapman told the Lakes Region Weekly last week that Plante, town manager since 1996, should either resign or be fired. Her comments were releated to two recent outside reports looking into discontent within the Public Works Department. Both reports cited a need to improve communication, trust and accountability throughout town departments, among other findings.
After the council met in executive session Sept. 25, Nick Kalogerakis, a member of the Windham Planning Board, Windham Economic Development Corporation and Long Range Planning Committee, stepped up to the podium to discuss Plante. Chapman cut him off, saying, “We’re not going to have any public comment in regards to an employee matter in the town at this time.”
Kalogerakis, along with Councilor Jarrod Maxfield, objected. After consultation with the town attorney and confirmation that other councilors wanted to hear public comment, Kalogerakis spoke of his support for Plante and of his dissatisfaction with the Town Council.
“The dysfunction of this team is embarrassing, and everybody in town knows it,” he said.
In an interview before the meeting, Kalogerakis said, “The possible firing of the town manager is ludicrous. There’s no bearing for that. The issues that the town is going through that they’re stating as reasons why he should be terminated are not terminable offenses.”
The 11 other audience members who spoke Tuesday also backed Plante, including Windham Public Library Director Jen Alvino, Windham Human Resources Director Phyllis Moss, Director of Code Enforcement and Zoning Administration Chris Hanson and Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield. Moss presented the council with a letter signed by 38 town employees supporting Plante.
Resident Rita Bernier, 81, told the council she has lived in Windham under three town managers and that Plante “is the best thing that ever happened to this town.”
“I think, Madame Chair, that really you should be ashamed,” Bernier said.
Resident Alan Finney said Plante is “a man of integrity, professionalism and skill.”
“I wish I could say the same for our council chair because the conduct in the past week has been very unprofessional,” Finney said.
Planning Board Chairman David Douglass also focused on Chapman. “I’m really upset at that woman right there because you are destroying this town single-handedly. Your actions tonight – trying to silence these people who care about this town – are so petty and disgusting, I barely have words for it,” Douglass said. “The fact of the matter is that you’re a detriment to this town,” he said.
Chapman occasionally shook her head in apparent disagreement with some comments but otherwise listened intently to the speakers. She did not return phone calls Wednesday before the Lake Region Weekly’s print deadline. At the end of the comment period Tuesday, she thanked the audience members for coming. “I’ve heard what you have to say. I’ll take some of it into consideration and some of it, I’m gonna leave here,” she said.
Plante, out of town on business, was not at the meeting. He could not be reached for comment before the newspaper’s print deadline. He has not commented on Chapman’s comments about his possible termination.
After the public participation session ended, Councilor Timothy Nangle criticized Chapman for her treatment of Plante. “She and her followers here on the council have defamed an employee that has been with the town for 22 years. Yet in another [Lakes Region Weekly] article, she claims ‘We don’t attack employees.’ And she’s right. We don’t. But clearly, she does,” he said.
He said Chapman told him the first time they met that she had the votes to fire Plante, and he said that has been her agenda all along.
Nangle said Chapman wanted the second outside report conducted “in hope to get that smoking gun that would help serve her agenda.”
“She didn’t, and boy, is she mad,” he said. “She’s so mad and frustrated that she just couldn’t wait, she had to go to the press and permanently damage a veteran town employee’s reputation.”
Nangle said he wants Plante to remain as manager, “although, considering,” he added, looking at the chairwoman, “I’m not sure why he would.”
Nangle and Maxfield have both vehemently criticized and clashed with council leadership in the past.
“Such negative and vile tactics, combined with the fact that I’ve seen this manager be an organized, focused, professional who’s dedicated to Windham, to its people, and to its success — those facts have resolved me to where I stand today, in full support of Tony Plante,” Maxfield said Tuesday.
“The fact is that there are members of this council, specifically council leadership, who’ve made it their mission not to help Windham move forward and accomplish our much-needed goals in a professional and focused manner, but instead attack, belittle and berate a dedicated public servant who loves Windham,” he continued.
Maxfield quoted Chapman in a Sept. 21 Lakes Region Weekly article saying, “It all stops at the top.”
“That’s completely right,” he said. “Because as outlined by the $25,000 management study [the second outside report] that we paid for — the second one, after the $6,800 one [the first report], as requested and pushed by council leadership — the top of the town is not the town manager.”
He showed a chart to the audience. “This $25,000 Powerpoint we point to does not have TM at the top. It has TC. Town Council. Town Council is at the top. And again, to quote the chair, ‘It all stops at the top.’”
Council Vice Chairman Robert Muir urged town staff attending the meeting to “listen.”
“I know you’ve got very strong feelings about this. There are still things that you don’t know, you’ll never know,” Muir said. At that, Maxfield said “No.”
Muir responded, “I did not interrupt you,” to which Maxfield replied, “I didn’t lie.”
Muir continued, “The council chair has been accused of a lot of things. If you’ve watched these meetings, if you know these people, you know that we’re not influenced by other people.” Some members of the audience then began laughing.
The other councilors did not comment specifically on Chapman or Plante.
Jane Vaughan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]
The Windham Town Council listens to residents speak their support for Town Manager Tony Plante at a meeting Tuesday.
Town Councilors Timothy Nangle, left, and Jarrod Maxfield, have often clashed with council leadership and were critical of Chairwoman Donna Chapman again at Tuesday’s meeting.
Windham Town Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman listens Tuesday night as Councilor Jarrod Maxfield criticizes her treatment of Town Manager Tony Plante.