Willimantic officials say county manager misled fire inspectors

Posted Aug. 24, 2010, at 8:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:37 a.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Willimantic municipal officials claim that Piscataquis County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte, a Willimantic resident, “impersonated” a town official when she and another resident met in July with two inspectors from the State Fire Marshal’s Office at the Willimantic Town Hall.

As a result of that visit, the town received a warning for failure to get a construction permit, which halted a town hall renovation project.

Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin said Tuesday he is investigating the allegations.

Earlier on Tuesday, the municipal officials protested Piscataquis County Commission Chairman Tom Lizotte’s denial of their request to publicly share their concerns about Tourtelotte’s involvement in town affairs.

Willimantic officials were not allowed to speak on the matter because it involved internal politics in Willimantic for which the commissioners have no jurisdiction, Lizotte said after the meeting. The commissioners reviewed the “purported evidence” and found no merit in the accusation that Tourtelotte had misused her position, he said.

“The accusations made against Marilyn are groundless and motivated solely by the notoriously vindictive and toxic nature of town politics in Willimantic,” Lizotte said. “Marilyn merely exercised her right, as a Willimantic citizen, to sign a citizens petition. That’s still legal in America, even in Willimantic, no matter what your job is. The local selectmen should spend their time fixing the many violations uncovered by the state fire marshal, instead of desperately searching for a scapegoat.”

Resident Julius Erdo III had circulated and mailed a petition to the State Fire Marshal’s Office asking that the agency check to ensure the project, which included moving the building onto a foundation, was in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with fire, safety and health standards. The petition, signed by Tourtelotte, also carried a personal note from Erdo that was written after the signatures were obtained and which mentioned Tourtelotte and her county position.

Willimantic officials claim Tourtelotte passed herself off to the state officials as a planning board member, when in fact she had resigned from the position earlier for lack of time to commit to the position, and they allege she did the inspection on county time and mileage. She used a key she had been given previously for planning board meetings to let the inspectors inside the building, they said.

Tourtelotte said Tuesday she had neither passed herself off as a planning board member —even though she had not received a reply from the selectmen about her resignation — nor was she acting in any county capacity. She said she was acting merely as a town resident and wanted to make sure municipal funds were being spent properly.

The inspection by officials from the State Fire Marshal’s Office resulted in a stop-work order on the renovations, pending the issuance of a permit, according to Selectman John Tatko. Before any renovation work was done, Tatko said, town officials were told by both the fire marshal’s office and the local planning board that no permit was needed.

Tourtelotte, who was on the planning board at the time, said the board members told selectmen they did not need a building permit from the town but would need a plumbing permit if any plumbing was involved in the project.

Tatko also noted that no resident had expressed any concerns to selectmen about the project.

Tourtelotte admitted she had not discussed her concerns with the selectmen.

“People don’t want to go to the selectmen because of the way they are treated if any issues arise,” she said.

For now, town officials are reassessing the project. The town cannot use the basement and the second floor for any official purpose unless further improvements are made in the 19th century building, according to Tatko. In addition, some revisions are needed — such as the installation of an exit door on the first floor — before the fire marshal’s office will allow the town to have more than 30 people inside the building at once. That has prompted town officials to move the annual town meeting, set for Sept. 27, to the Monson Community Center, Tatko said.

Richard McCarthy, senior plans examiner for the fire marshal’s office, said Tuesday he had no written or verbal contact with Tourtelotte before the site visit. McCarthy also noted that since that visit, town officials have submitted some plans, but still must obtain a permit for the work that has been done and is going to be done.

The town is moving forward with the fire marshal’s recommendations and is working to fulfill the needed requirements, Tatko said.

“We are trying our best to have the town hall ready for future meetings,” Selectman Linda Packard said Tuesday.

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