2014-03-21 / Front Page

Cape denies claim of harassment

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — A public works watchdog with a history of filing complaints against a supervisor in Cape Elizabeth has renewed his claim that public vehicles are being improperly used in South Portland.

In February 2012, Mark Dennison, a Cape native who now lives in South Portland, reported that public works supervisor James Green had town employees work on his own vehicles while on the clock and used town equipment to plow his driveway, as well as that of a neighbor. Both Green and his neighbor also live in South Portland. According to Town Manager Michael McGovern, Green was issued a written reprimand at the time.

Now, Dennison is claiming that he and his son Josh, who is employed at the Cape Elizabeth Public Works Department, have been harassed by the town over that incident, adding in a March 4 letter to Public Works Director Bob Malley that he once again caught Green with a town truck in his South Portland driveway.

“On Feb. 21 at around 6:40 a.m., I found Jim Green in a town of Cape Elizabeth pickup truck at Jim’s house on Chapel Street in South Portland,” wrote Dennison. “Apparently, nothing has changed since this matter was brought to the (town’s) attention.

“No other public works employee can take a town vehicle home and as a supervisor it sets a poor example for the rest of the employees,” wrote Dennison in a letter sent last week to town officials.

“Time to get rid of the double standard.”

In a recent interview, Dennison had even stronger words.

“Apparently, Jim Green does whatever he wants and gets away with it,” he said. “I called Bob Malley before I sent my letter. He told me to stop managing his employees and hung up on me. And the town manager, he won’t do anything about anything because he’s been in there for 35 years and thinks he can do whatever he wants.”

However, Malley said that, as a supervisor, Green is on call during winter and is authorized to take a town pickup truck home for short periods during storm events. Looking at a cell phone picture captured by Dennison of the town pickup in Green’s driveway, Malley said, “You can see that it was taken during a storm, and there’s no evidence of any plowing being done.”

“I don’t want to get into the previous incident – that’s a personnel issue and it was addressed – but I can say there was nothing done here that I would not allow,” Malley said.

“This complaint is absolutely without merit,” agreed McGovern, who noted that Green has worked for Cape Elizabeth since December 1979 and the 2012 reprimand is the only disciplinary action ever taken against him.

Dennison’s harassment complaint stems from a September 2013 incident in which he was initially denied an opportunity to unload brush at the recycling station off Spurwink Avenue.

Dennison, who does a variety of odd jobs, was working for a Cape resident, but said he refused any pay for hauling the brush. That should have given him the ability to unload the material without have to have a contractor’s permit. Employees at the center stopped Dennison, because he does not have a residential dump sticker on his vehicle, identifying him as a Cape resident. Dennison also was not licensed as a contractor eligible to use the transfer station, having not paid the $150 nonresident fee for that privilege.

Eventually, the situation was resolved and Dennison was allowed to dump, but he filed a harassment complaint with the police department, nonetheless.

Malley, who said the town has been extra-vigilant of late about improper use of the recycling center by contractors and nonresidents, issued a memo to the transfer station’s two attendants on Sept. 13, the day after the incident.

That memo makes clear the attendants had acted properly, by initially denying Dennison access to the transfer station, because he was a known nonresident in a vehicle without a sticker, who may have been acting as a contractor.

“Basically, if someone who does not live in town is not getting paid for work, if they’re just using their vehicle to help out a family member or whatever, all we ask for is a note from the homeowner saying so, if they can’t actually come with the person doing the dumping,” Malley said.

One of the annual goals adopted by the town council for 2013 was to reduce improper use of the recycling center. Malley was not able to say how much dumping by nonresidents costs the town in transfer fees to ecomaine, where Cape hauls its trash, but did say employees were under orders to try and curb the extra tonnage.

The station attendants also police what goes out of the transfer station, as well as what comes in.

“What we really have a problem with is the swap shop,” Malley said. “That is supposed to be just for Cape residents, but a few years ago “The Bollard” ran a story saying, ‘Cape has some great stuff.’ They even gave directions for how to sneak into the station without being noticed as nonresidents.”

Meanwhile, Police Chief Neil Williams said Dennison is correct in alleging that he was asked by McGovern to limit the harassment complaint to an interview with Malley.

“Not that it would have mattered,” he said. “It was pretty clear there was no criminal harassment involved, which means there really wasn’t anything for us to do, as a police department. If it had been a complaint against someone in the department, we would have done an internal investigation, but we don’t investigate other municipal departments that way.”

Williams also said Dennison is correct that he was never notified of the results of his complaint.

“That should have happened,” he said. “All I can say is that, yes, we did drop the ball on that one.”

Dennison said the allegation of harassment against his son stems from a December storm, when Josh, who is both a shop steward and head of the Teamsters local, crashed into a pine tree at the Cooper Street intersection leading to the pubic works garage, when on his way back from a three-hour break from plowing shifts during a snow storm.

“He offered to pay for the tree, but he just wanted to know so he could put it on his insurance,” Dennison said. “Malley said it was fine, but then just recently came back and said the tree had to be replaced, after all the insurance stuff was done.”

Like Williams, Malley acknowledges, “dropping the ball.”

“It is true that with all the other winter stuff going on, and not being able to get the tree warden to look at it right away, it did take awhile to determine that the tree isn’t going to make it and does, in fact, have to be replaced.”

According to McGovern, neither incident is evidence of the town engaging in a vendetta against Dennison, either directly or by proxy through his son.

“Complaints are a natural part of doing business as a municipality,” he said. “We expect and encourage that. People should be mindful of their government. But we do not retaliate against any individual, no matter how often they might complain.”

Dennison has his own history with Cape Elizabeth Public Works. His father was once public works director and he, too, worked there, until resigning 25 years ago. Dennison also had a run-in with Malley and Green – “about two years ago” according to McGovern – over a sewer hook-up he completed to his son’s Cape Elizabeth home. McGovern said Dennison’s version of that event, as related in his 2012 letter to councilors, glosses over parts “not exactly complimentary to him.” However, McGovern has declined to discuss the matter on the record, in part because it deals with personnel issues, but also because, as he wrote in an email, “criticizing the critic when he has some legitimate concerns on other issues is not professional.”

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