Westbrook’s assistant city administrator mocked several members of the community in an email that was intended as a private joke with the city’s mayor, but instead was read aloud at a City Council meeting Monday.

William Baker apologized for the message Tuesday, but also blamed “constant taunting from a small group of mean-spirited people” for wearing out his patience. Some of the targets of his email said he should give up his post at City Hall, but Baker isn’t facing any immediate disciplinary action.

The email was sent in February by Baker, assistant city administrator and director of business and community relations, to Mayor Colleen Hilton after both officials received an inquiry from Michael Shaughnessy, an art professor at the University of Southern Maine and the president of Friends of the Presumpscot River. Shaughnessy wrote the pair to ask about placing sculptures made by his students along the city’s riverwalk.

After responding to Shaughnessy with suggestions of people to contact for the project, Baker sent another email solely to Hilton outlining “what I wanted to say”: “Dear Michael – this is the dumbest (expletive) idea I ever heard!”

Baker went on to joke that it wouldn’t be possible to collaborate with the city on such a project because of the inevitable intervention of certain community members.

Westbrook resident and business owner Deb Shangraw received the email in response to a request for public records related to a concern she had about the city’s budget. Shangraw, who was among the targets mentioned in the message, read the mocking email during a public comment period at the council meeting Monday.

BROAD RANGE OF TARGETS IN EMAIL

In his email, Baker also mocked others for how he believed they would respond to the sculpture project.

Caren Michel, president of the Westbrook Arts and Culture Committee, “will be blaming the city for not maintaining those pieces of (expletive) five minutes after she says she supports them being there,” he wrote.

Shangraw and James Tranchemontagne, founders of a group called Westbrook Taxpayers United, “will be asking what public money paid for them and (City Councilor) Mike Sanphy will help them file the freedom of information request to find out.”

Baker also referred to My Place Teen Center Executive Director Donna Dwyer in the email, saying she “will argue that (the sculptures) need to be bigger and must have kitchens to feed the 137 kids a day she feeds – by the way you will need to build her stipend in to the cost of construction – she is due 15 percent on the cost of material and labor for anything built within three blocks of the teen center.”

Baker then turned back to Shaughnessy, a strong advocate for getting fish passageways built over the dams owned by Sappi Fine Paper.

“Thanks to you Sappi will spend 7 million dollars helping 7 fish get over the falls – that is one million a fish you idiot!” he wrote.

Baker, the city’s former police chief, suggests that Shaughnessy “get your head out of your (expletive) and pretend you give a (expletive) about important stuff in the world like the fact that the police are disarming some lunatic with a gun on Church Street right now – or ISIS will be chopping off your noggin on the riverwalk before too long.”

OFFICIAL WRITES LETTER OF APOLOGY

At the end of his email, Baker wrote, “I guess I need a vacation.”

Shaughnessy agreed with that sentiment when asked about the email Tuesday.

“This is obviously somebody that’s very frustrated,” he said.

Shaughnessy, whose students’ sculptures were erected along the river this month, said he believes the matter is one for the city to deal with internally and that he would not have a problem working with Baker again.

The other targets of Baker’s email were less forgiving Tuesday.

Michel said she has been critical about the maintenance of amenities donated to the city by the Cornelia Warren Community Association, of which she sits on the board.

“Obviously, that sticks with him,” she said.

Michel said she found the email “very disturbing.” She called for Baker’s resignation “because of the contempt that he shows for the citizens and other people who are active in the city.”

Tranchemontagne, owner of the Frog & Turtle restaurant and a former mayoral candidate, spoke after Shangraw at the council meeting Monday, saying he can take the personal attack but he was more offended by the attacks against others.

Baker wrote an apology letter Tuesday to the city’s residents and businesspeople, the people mentioned in the email, the mayor and the City Council.

“This is a self-inflicted wound made possible by my reckless written words for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed,” he wrote.

However, he said, “public service can be (a) challenging and frustrating environment.”

The purpose of his email, he said, “was to lighten the mood or vent some frustration in the wake of constant taunting from a small group of mean-spirited people with a harmful political agenda led by James Tranchemontagne.”

MAYOR PLANNING NO DISCIPLINE

His words, he said, “are not a reflection of how I think, how I speak, or how I treat people publicly or privately,” and they wouldn’t have affected anyone if it wasn’t for the group’s “perverse joy in reading that email to the City Council and sharing it publicly.”

Hilton said Tuesday that members of her staff, including herself, “are pummeled on a daily basis.” She said she called Baker immediately after receiving his email, concerned about his level of frustration, then provided him with “coaching and counseling.”

“There’s been no recurrence, nor do I expect there will be,” she said. Hilton said she doesn’t intend to discipline Baker.

Shangraw, who owns and manages property in Westbrook, said Baker’s apology doesn’t mean much to her.

“To me, this is a trend. This isn’t a one-off situation,” she said. “I don’t think he should hold this position anymore. I don’t know how people can trust him. I can’t.”

It was the second time in two weeks that a Westbrook official has come under fire for his comments.

City Councilor Paul Emery, speaking at a town hall-style meeting hosted by Democrats late last month, said it wouldn’t bother him if Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, “goes to see his maker” and lamented that assassination isn’t considered a legitimate political strategy in the United States.

Other city officials, including Hilton, urged Emery to step down, but he has not.

 


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