A Litchfield selectman who won election last spring after pledging more transparency in town government and who has since accused several local officials of misconduct now faces the possibility that voters will remove him from office.
More than 200 Litchfield residents have signed a petition seeking a vote to recall Selectman Timothy Lachapelle just a day after Lachapelle distributed an open letter alleging numerous offenses by town employees, including theft and improper record keeping. Lachapelle printed 500 copies of that letter, which he and his acquaintances left at businesses around Litchfield and handed out at a recent selectman’s meeting.
In his letter, Lachapelle accused Code Enforcement Officer Steve Ochmanski of stealing from the town and questioned the legality of the town hiring Bryan T. Lamoreau, the husband of Town Manager Trudy Lamoreau, as the town’s transfer station manager in the summer of 2015 among other allegations.
Lachapelle also complained that officials have not responded to his requests for public information in a timely manner. Since last spring, he has filed dozens of requests for information from the town under the state’s Freedom of Access Act.
“I have been fighting for the taxpayers since the day I took office,” Lachapelle, a 51-year-old property developer, wrote in the letter. “I have uncovered more issues and laws being broken in the last five months than any other selectman in the history of the town. I am unable to continue sitting at the selectman’s (sic) table knowing that taxpayers are being ripped off in numerous ways.”
Both Lamoreau and Ochmanski say Lachapelle’s accusations are without merit, and in the last week, several other residents and officials have also expressed frustration with his behavior and statements. Lachapelle did not attend a selectman’s meeting last week, prompting Selectman George Thomson to complain he was abdicating his responsibilities.
The most tangible sign of frustration with Lachapelle is the ongoing effort to oust him from the select board.
On Thursday, town clerks certified 213 signatures on the petition for his recall, more than the 172 required for the petition to go forward, Lamoreau said during an interview. According to a recall ordinance that was approved by local voters at a special town meeting on Oct. 11, Lamoreau must now present the petition to selectmen, who will schedule a public hearing and vote in the coming months.
Lamoreau said she could not explain the motives of those who have petitioned for Lachapelle’s removal.
She also called his litany of allegations about town employees “misleading” and “totally false.” Her husband reports to and was hired by the selectmen, Lamoreau said, and she even recommended that they not accept him for the transfer station job when he applied. Lamoreau added that she does not think there is an ordinance dictating which body, the town manager or select board, has hiring power for which town employees.
Lachapelle challenged that assertion during an interview this week, insisting that such hiring is the town manager’s responsibility in Litchfield.
The most glaring of Lachapelle’s accusations may be that Ochmanski, the code enforcement officer, has stolen money from the town.
Ochmanski makes trips to the bank for the town and the town reimburses him for that travel, but at a selectmen’s meeting on Aug. 22, Lachapelle said he thought Ochmanski asked to be reimbursed for more trips than he actually took in the previous year, according to minutes from the meeting.
Because of the alleged over-reporting, Lachapelle also proposed firing Ochmanski at that meeting, according to minutes, but neither of the other selectmen seconded his motion.
“These allegations are and were completely baseless,” Ochmanski’s attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, wrote in an email. “If Mr. Lachapelle had actually done any sort of investigation he would have seen that. The Town Manager and the two other selectmen looked at everything, and it was clear that there was nothing inappropriate at all. Zero.”
“Mr. Lachapelle is on a witch hunt and he has yet to find a single witch,” McKee continued. “Responsible town officials look into town issues, talk to people and gather facts. It is called good governance. Mr. Lachapelle should try it some time.”
If anything, Ochmanski said this week, he under-reports the number of trips he makes to the bank. Though Lachapelle said he has contacted law enforcement authorities to report his accusations, Ochmanski said that no investigators have approached him.
Lachapelle, though, contends that he has investigated the matter thoroughly using town documents. He concluded that Ochmanski over-reported his travel after comparing his reimbursement requests with the town’s bank statements, which indicate when money has been deposited, he said in an interview.
“Everything I put in that letter I can prove,” Lachapelle said.
Lachapelle narrowly won election to the select board in a three-way race last June, beating out incumbent Selectwoman Rayna Leibowitz and Ken Lizotte, another newcomer to town politics. Results showed Lachapelle received 195 votes, Leibowitz received 183 and Lizotte received 131. At the time, he said he wanted to make local government more transparent. A goal he reiterated last week.
In his letter, Lachapelle criticized Lamoreau for not responding to some of his information requests.
In the last month, he has filed multiple requests, which Lamoreau provided copies of.
On the evening of Oct. 24, he emailed Lamoreau a request for the town’s permit fee schedules. Two days earlier, he requested information about engineering work performed on Huntington Hill Road. In early October, he asked her for the last three years of audit reports, as well as documents related to Ochmanski and Bryan Lamoreau. In late September, he requested copies of all the town’s cash receipts and all emails sent between Lamoreau and select board members over the previous six months among other documents.
But Lamoreau has been making a good faith effort to respond to his requests, she said. It has been difficult for her to balance those tasks against all the other responsibilities of town manager, particularly during a hectic voting season. She added that it would be easier for Lachapelle to inspect the documents himself.
“We have an open door policy,” Lamoreau said. “He knows that. I’ve told him several times. ‘Tim, you’re more than welcome to come in.’ But it’s easier to make my life miserable. Like just today, I’ve seen three more (information requests) from him … I understand that a lot of people out there want transparency, that they don’t trust government, but in order to get your point across, you don’t need to be a bully, and number two, stop misconstruing facts.”
At last week’s selectmen meeting, Chairman Mark Russell said the town might consider hiring a contractor to help fulfill requests under the Freedom of Access Act.
Lachapelle insisted that it was necessary for the town to provide him copies of the documents so that he can share the information with others if necessary, which he intends to continue doing if voted out of office this fall. If removed, Lachapelle said he will also collect signatures to have other local officials recalled.
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642