Buckfield selectmen question town manager’s decision to replace burnt truck

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BUCKFIELD — A divided Board of Selectmen decided Tuesday night to ask Maine Municipal Association’s legal services department whether Town Manager Cindy Dunn violated protocol by purchasing a vehicle without asking the selectmen first.

She did this after a truck used for plowing and sanding caught fire during last week’s nor’easter.

The Public Works Department’s 2000 Sterling caught fire Wednesday, Dec. 10, while town employee Jacob Gilbert was out maintaining the roads during the storm, Dunn said after the meeting. He was on Brock School Road when the truck’s cab caught fire, and Dunn suspects the fire was electrical.

“I would say he’s extremely lucky,” Selectman Cheryl Coffman said about Gilbert, after looking at photos of the fire-ravaged truck during the meeting.

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Dunn said the town tried to find another truck that it could borrow or rent, but wasn’t able to do so with more bad weather in the forecast. She conferred last week with Public Works employees, who found a comparable truck in Concord, N.H., Dunn said after the meeting.

She made the executive decision to purchase a 2002 Sterling for $24,900 from the town’s day-to-day cash flow.

Selectmen Chair Martha Catevenis said the board found out about the new truck purchase after the fact and that she already asked MMA’s legal department if Dunn violated protocol and procedure. She couldn’t get an answer unless the question came from the selectmen as a group and 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 to collectively repose the question to MMA, which was seconded by Selectman Scott Violette.

“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, answered not to her knowledge.

The board voted 2-1 to pose the question to MMA, with Catevenis and Violette voting for the motion and Coffman casting the only dissenting vote.

The town’s insurance company estimated that 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’s honoring her request.

“My goal, of course, is to break even with this,” Dunn said during 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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