Boothbay Harbor documents reveal costs over $100K in Lewis separation

Mon, 06/08/2015 - 2:15pm

    Documents released to this newspaper by the town under a Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) request show that the process of firing former Public Works Director Jody Lewis cost Boothbay Harbor taxpayers over $100,000.

    Between 1986 and December 2014, when the board of selectmen approved his firing amid public uproar, Lewis worked for the town of Boothbay Harbor.

    Many of his critics and supporters agree that as public works director, Lewis was known for the pride he took in keeping Boothbay Harbor in top shape, for a meticulous work ethic and a big heart. But those who know Lewis well also say he was a controversial figure, known as well for his quick temper, and, at times, impulsive and profane outbursts.

    Even though a financial accounting is possible, a separation agreement (see attached document) between Lewis and the Boothbay Harbor Board of Selectmen may prevent Boothbay Harbor taxpayers from ever hearing a full explanation of the non-financial details relating to Lewis’ termination in winter 2014.

    The separation agreement prohibits both Lewis and town officials from discussing any aspect of the case with “the media, members of the public or any third party.”

    The following synopsis of events is based on town documents obtained under FOAA and conversations with current and former town employees and individuals who testified at Lewis’ appeal hearing.

    Events leading to Lewis’ termination

    According to the board’s decision document and associated record, between 2009 and May 2011, Town Manager Tom Woodin documented six disciplinary actions against Lewis — all associated with profanity or verbal flare-ups.

    These actions were the result of complaints by private citizens, other town employees, and disruptive behavior in the town office. One of these events resulted in a 10-day suspension.

    According to a former town employee, two public works employees filed grievances against Lewis in 2013; one of them quit in 2014, placing the blame on Lewis’ treatment of him. Resolution of the grievances did not result in any disciplinary action against Lewis. The public record shows no disciplinary actions involving Lewis between May 2011 and September 2014.

    For Woodin, Lewis’ after-hours response to the largest water main break in Boothbay Harbor’s history on Sept. 5, 2014 appears to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Water district employees complained to the town manager that Lewis asked for direct compensation when he responded to the break that occurred after normal work hours. According to witnesses at the hearing, Lewis claimed he said only that a water district employee would need to buy Lewis and his wife dinner.

    The Boothbay Harbor Personnel Manual requires the town manager to hold a pre-termination hearing before firing an employee, and the employee must be given three days advance notice of the hearing.

    However, anomalies in the public record and information provided by town employees suggest Lewis was fired, then placed on paid leave while the town assembled its case against him, and then fired again.

    According to town employees, the town manager fired Lewis by written notice sometime in late September 2014. Town records show Lewis was paid for all of his sick leave (400 hours) and all vacation leave (160 hours) on Oct. 2, 2014 in what appears to be a severance package.

    According to a town employee, town attorneys weighed in after Lewis was fired, and Lewis was placed on administrative leave instead, pending further investigation. The town manager reported in an email that Lewis went on paid administrative leave on Sept. 29, 2014.

    The town’s first attorney’s bill associated with Lewis’ termination is dated Oct. 6, 2014, three days after Lewis had been cashed out. According to the public record, town attorneys and Woodin met with Lewis and his attorney on Nov. 17, 2014 and then two days later, Woodin terminated Lewis’ employment by letter.

    This “second” termination, the only one in the public record, occurred six weeks after Lewis had been paid for all vacation and sick leave. By this time, town attorneys had billed the town about $15,000.

    Lewis’ appeal

    Lewis appealed his termination to the board of selectmen; and on Dec. 22-23, 2014, the board convened a six-hour, closed hearing to consider the appeal. Lewis was represented by Linda Yarmosh; the town and town manager were represented by two legal firms: Bernstein Shur and Bergen & Parkinson.

    According to witnesses, 12 individuals testified and the board considered a 100-plus page joint report prepared by the town’s two law firms and Lewis’ attorney. Testimony was not recorded and the joint record was determined to be not subject to FOAA. 

    According to witnesses there that night, most of the hearing was dedicated to the town lawyers presenting their case against Lewis. Witnesses said the town was well prepared and thorough, and the case against Lewis stretched back years, including allegations not included in the public record.

    At the conclusion of the hearing, the board endorsed Woodin’s decision to end Lewis’ employment and cited six findings of fact to support its decision (see attached decision).

    The vote was close, 3-2, with selectmen Denise Griffin, Russ Hoffman and Wendy Wolf in favor, and Bill Hamblen and Jay Warren opposed.

    Separation agreement

    A month later on Jan. 21, Lewis filed a motion in Lincoln County Superior Court for a time extension to file for an appeal for government review of the board’s decision. He filed for a second time extension on Feb. 24.

    During this time, Lewis and the board and their respective attorneys began working out the details of the separation agreement, which was eventually signed on March 19. 

    In the agreement, both parties agreed: “If the parties are asked about the status of Lewis’ employment by the media, members of the public or any third party, they will state that Lewis voluntarily resigned from his employment and that they have no further comment.”

    Lewis agreed to withdraw his appeal, to forgo any other legal action against the town and to never again seek employment by the town. The board agreed to pay Lewis a lump sum fee ($9,451.23) and to cover $19,995.94 of his attorney costs.

    The costs

    The costs to the individuals involved and to the town, in lost time, as well in the loss of Lewis himself, cannot be quantified. But a financial accounting is possible.

    In direct costs, Boothbay Harbor taxpayers paid just shy of $109,000 to separate from Lewis, roughly $60,000 of which went to attorney fees for both sides.

    The town reports it spent $6,410 between July 14, 2014 and March 9, 2015 to engage the services of AnnaLee Rosenblatt, a management consultant. Her specific involvement in Lewis’ termination was not specified in town documents. She has served the town as a union contract negotiator for several years.

    The town spent $39,973 on its attorneys’ fees. It paid $13,722 to Bergen & Parkinson and $26,251 to Bernstein Shur.

    The town paid Lewis $17,803 (gross) for 160 hours of vacation leave and 400 hours of sick leave on Oct. 2, 2014; they paid him $15,259 while he was on paid administrative leave from Sept. 29, 2014 through Dec. 23, 2014; a $9,451 lump sum payment associated with the separation agreement; and $19,996 for his attorney fees, for a total of $62,509.

    Moving on

    Lewis and the town have since moved on. Lewis has started his own business and the town has hired a new public works director.

    Ryan Leighton contributed to this article.