Buckfield manager questioned about replacing burnt truck

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BUCKFIELD — Selectmen voted 2-1 Tuesday night to get a legal opinion on whether Town Manager Cindy Dunn violated protocol by not consulting them before buying a truck to replace one that burned during last week’s nor’easter.

The Public Works Department’s 2000 Sterling caught fire Dec. 10 while Jacob Gilbert was plowing Brock School Road, Dunn said after the meeting. She said she suspects the fire was electrical.

“I would say he’s extremely lucky,” Selectman Cheryl Coffman said after looking at photos of the burned-out truck.

Dunn said she and the highway crew tried to find another truck to borrow or rent but weren’t able to because more bad weather was forecast. She conferred with Public Works employees, who found a comparable truck in Concord, N.H., she said. She made the executive decision to purchase a 2002 Sterling for $24,900 from the town’s day-to-day cash flow.

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Board Chairwoman Martha Catevenis said the board found out about the purchase after the fact and that she already asked Maine Municipal Association’s legal department if Dunn violated protocol and procedure. Catevenis said couldn’t get an answer unless the question came from the selectmen as a group. She asked her colleagues if they wanted her to pose the question for the board.

“No, I don’t think so. (It was an) emergency situation — weather was bad, roads have got to be kept open,” Coffman said. “It was really the only option that was open at the time. It had to be done.”

Catevenis made a motion for the board to get an opinion from MMA and it was seconded by Selectman Scott Violette. The vote was 2-1 with Coffman dissenting.

“I understand that it was stormy. But again, my question is more of protocol and procedure, trying to make sure we’re set so we know what the procedure is and what is allowed for a town manager,” Catevenis said. “I am not saying what she did in my eyes is wrong. Just I don’t know, procedural-wise, whether or not that was OK to make a purchase of a $24,000 vehicle without coming to the board or at least informing the board ahead of time.”

Violette agreed with Catevenis.

“I think it’s a checks and balances type of thing,” he said.

Coffman asked if there was precedence for this type of situation.

Dunn, who served as town clerk before becoming town manager, said there was not to her knowledge.

The town’s insurance company estimated Buckfield will be reimbursed $27,900 for the burned truck.

Dunn said after the meeting that since Buckfield purchased the vehicle for $9,000 in 2009, it made $41,000 worth of improvements to it, including replacing the motor, filters and radiator. She asked the insurance company to reconsider the cash value of the truck and it is honoring her request, she said.

“My goal, of course, is to break even with this,” Dunn said at Tuesday’s meeting. “If the insurance company won’t budge, we’ll have to either call it an emergency and take from the emergency fund, and/or the equipment reserve.”

Other costs associated with the fire and purchase include towing and lettering. The town was originally charged $4,800 for towing the vehicle, Dunn said, but $1,000 was knocked off the bill. Lettering for the new truck cost $70.

eplace@advertiserdemocrat.com

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