2015-12-18 / Front Page

City officials mum on parks director’s resignation

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Following an internal investigation, Rick Towle, the South Portland director of parks, recreation and waterfront, has tendered his resignation.

Towle’s departure was effective immediately upon his Dec. 1 letter. Parks Superintendent Sarah Neuts has taken over as acting director, City Manager Jim Gailey said, adding in a Dec. 16 email, “The job is currently advertised.”

Beyond that, however, Gailey would divulge no details about Towle’s exit from City Hall, apart from confirming the parks director was placed on paid leave Nov. 1 and that the city’s human resources department had conducted “an investigation” of some sort.

Regarding that investigation, Gailey would only say, “No disciplinary action was taken.”

Beyond that, Gailey would not say when the investigation was concluded, whether written findings were produced or signed, if Towle ever returned to work between his Nov. 1 leave and Dec. 1 resignation, and if, following the investigation, he could have returned to work, had he chosen to do so.

“Your questions get into personnel and I won't answer them,” Gailey told the Sentry.

Gaily also refused to say what precipitated the investigation, including whether a complaint against Towle had been filed and, if so, whether it came from a city employee or a South Portland resident. Gailey would only say that so far as rumors floating around town that Towle may have misused city and or grant dollars go, “What you heard on the street is absolutely false.”

Towle could not be reached for comment. Mayor Tom Blake, a longtime champion of the city’s many public parks, deflected questions about the incident, writing in a Dec. 14 email, “I am sorry but I am not sure about any details. What is important now is that we reach out far and wide to find the best possible replacement.”

Towle, who was making $94,380 as of the current city budget, was hired in June 2012, winning out over 78 other applicants for the parks director job.

A Jay native and former South Portland resident, Towle attended the University of Southern Maine and served as parks director in Old Orchard Beach and Biddeford before moving out of state to take the top outdoor recreation job in Talbot Coun- ty, Maryland, where he worked from 2004 until 2012, when he returned to Maine to take over the South Portland parks and recreation department.

When South Portland Transportation Director Tom Meyers retired in 2013, responsibility for the city’s waterfront was transferred to Towle. Gailey said that oversight will remain with Towle’s eventual replacement.

Towle is the latest in a recent string of top jobs to change hands. Although he appears to have left under a cloud, and Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings left to cross the river for the top job at Portland City Hall, most of the changes have been fueled by retirements.

Jennings was replaced in August by former Fairfield town manager Joshua Reny, while Emily Carrington took over last month for longtime city clerk Sue Mooney, who had worked for the city since she was a teenager.

South Portland is also looking for a new fire chief to replace Kevin Guimond, who was working as a contract employee after officially retiring in late 2012. His last day on the job was Nov. 20. Also, Elizabeth Sawyer, who has served as city assessor since 1986, has announced her retirement effective Jan. 1. Her last day in the office is Dec. 18.

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