Attorney for fired E. Millinocket public works director says he will sue town

Posted April 02, 2012, at 7:54 p.m.
Last modified April 02, 2012, at 8:21 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town leaders effectively reaffirmed the March 12 firing of Public Works Department Director Daniel Violette on Monday despite his attorney’s promise to sue the town for $1 million for allegedly violating state law in its termination process.

The Board of Selectmen emerged from an executive session and voted 5-0 against a motion to rehire Violette and place him on administrative leave pending the outcome of Violette’s grievance. With that, attorney Richard Violette Jr., Violette’s brother, handed selectmen a letter saying he intended to sue the town.

A statement Richard Violette provided selectmen said the town violated state law by releasing a letter to the news media detailing its case for firing his brother before Daniel Violette had a chance to file a grievance. Under state law, personnel information is private except for a written record of a final disciplinary action — and that cannot be released publicly until the grievance process is exhausted, Richard Violette said.

“The letter contains false and misleading statements and, more significantly was released to local and statewide media in violation of [state law],” Richard Violette said in a written statement.

Board Chairman Clint Linscott said selectmen followed attorney Dean Beaupain’s advice in its firing process and reiterated that Daniel Violette admitted wrongdoing.

“Danny misappropriated funds, and he falsified documents and he spent 2½ months of [telling] elaborate lies, and then he admitted it,” Linscott said after the meeting.

According to the March 12 letter, which town officials provided, Daniel Violette ordered knives for his workers in December 2011. He charged the town for them, told the workers they were personal Christmas gifts from Violette and had the supplier list them on an invoice to the town as hammers. He eventually admitted the misconduct, the letter states.

Richard Violette said the $89 purchase was part of an annual effort to reward employees for good work. Previous Christmas purchases included small battery-operated headlamps and jackknives useful at work, Violette said, characterizing the purchases as “being well within the prerogative of a department head.”

Richard Violette admitted, however, that his brother had “a serious lapse in judgment” in misrepresenting the knives on his invoice, but that Daniel Violette admitted it to Linscott, who promised no disciplinary action. That misdeed warrants nothing more than a written reprimand, Richard Violette said.

That error “is the only one remotely rising to the level of a consideration of discipline and, even in that case, the discipline meted out far exceeds the behavior sought to be corrected,” Richard Violette said in his 10-page statement.

Daniel Violette also is accused of violating town procedures by buying a large number of tools for his department, according to the letter. The violation occurred in September 2010, the letter states, when Violette purchased all the tools at once but had the vendor list the purchases on separate invoices to keep the purchases from individually exceeding $200.

Richard Violette responded that the purchases were handled correctly because selectmen signed off on them as part of the warrant process before the purchases were made.

Daniel Violette regularly used personal tools at work to save the town money and improve efficiency, according to Richard Violette. Richard Violette also provided a list of seven donations of personal materials — including chunks of structural steel, steel pipe, backpack leaf blowers and a large dump trailer — that saved “literally thousands of dollars,” according to his statement.

Richard Violette said his brother never took six granite curbstones, as town officials allege, and that the two plows he did take were junk that had been left at the town garage for decades.

Daniel Violette had a spotless personnel file with no written reprimands over 25 years of work for the town, including the last seven as public works director, his brother said.

“Both basic fairness and a reasonable reading of the definition of cause for discharge suggest that none of the incidents described above … warrant termination,” Richard Violette said.

Richard Violette also said that town officials regularly use town equipment or supplies at their homes and businesses. The accusations include using town sand and salt and plowtrucks at homes and businesses; filling swimming pools with unmetered town water; and operating a for-profit auto repair service from a town garage.

Linscott said that the employees involved had been corrected by their supervisors or that their conduct was permissible. Selectmen are considering asking Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy to investigate Violette for criminal wrongdoing, Linscott said.

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