SKOWHEGAN — Tensions between selectmen and Town Manager Christine Almand boiled over Tuesday as the chairman of the Board of Selectmen accused Almand of being deceptive and “creating a hostile work environment.”

Town Manager Christine Almand of Skowhegan.

The enmity spilled into public view during a special meeting called by selectmen Chairman Todd Smith to address grievances he has with Almand. Smith had wanted the meeting to be held in executive session, behind closed doors, but Almand denied that request and instead held it in public.

Smith said Almand has created a hostile environment for employees and there’s “a repeating pattern of behavior” indicating she’s being deceptive.

He cited as an example a November meeting he was unable to attend at which selectmen gave Almand the authority to negotiate with the Westbrook-based construction company Benchmark to build a public safety building on East Madison Road that would house the fire and police departments. Officials in recent weeks have been reviewing the bids on the $8.9 million project and expressed alarm when they came in higher than anticipated.

The minutes from the November meeting show that Selectman Charles Robbins read a letter on Smith’s behalf.

Smith said in the letter that while he supports the project, he believes that some of the funds set aside in the town’s public safety reserve account “were sold to the voters to put away money with the intention to help offset the cost of a new building if one were to ever be built” and “not to be used in addition to the voter-approved $8.9 million.”

Selectmen at an earlier meeting, in October, had discussed the bids and Almand at the time said she didn’t receive any objections to the project from the board. A couple of days after that meeting Smith sent Almand an email expressing his opposition to the funding plan for the public safety building.

Smith on Tuesday claimed the minutes from the November meeting failed to accurately represent his emailed objections to the spending plan.

But Almand said Robbins had read the letter Smith provided that laid out Smith’s concerns. “There is no need for me to continue stating that you object when it was on the record,” she said.

Smith countered that “There’s a pattern here of deceitfulness. It’s something we’ve discussed in executive sessions, and it’s been noted in your evaluation.”

Selectman Steven Govoni said although the minutes of the November meeting were accurate, they are “missing the caveat” of the later email sent by Smith stating his concerns.

Robbins added that he doesn’t appreciate that he and Selectman Harold Bigelow are left out of some conversations held between committee members and the town manager.

“This is a board of five, you contacted Steve and Paul on the (public safety building committee) and never called myself or Hal, another repeated pattern,” Robbins said to Almand.

Selectman Paul York pushed back on Robbins.

“What’s the point of having committee assignments if we have to come back and tell everyone on the board?” York said. “It sounds right now like we’re on a witch hunt.”

York and Robbins at times shouted at one another from across the table.

“This is the problem, everyone seems to go out and talk to (committee members) and overstepping their bounds,” York said.

After much back and forth, Robbins said that the “lack of communication is where this all stems from.”

At the end of the meeting, Almand addressed the board and some of the statements made by selectmen.

“I’m sorry if anybody feels that I have been deceptive, that is certainly not my intent,” she said. “I do want us to work together as a team. We have a board that is comprised of four of five members that have been on the board for less than 18 months. … We haven’t had time to build a relationship, and I hope we can get there.”

Almand appeared to choke up while defending her integrity.

“I hope that when I tell you that’s my truth you believe me. I’m not accustomed to my integrity being called into question,” she said. “I don’t have an issue with constructive criticism. I would afford anybody the opportunity to walk into my office and have a conversation.”


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