WINTHROP — Town Manager Jeffrey Kobrock faces claims of bullying and harassing behavior following the resignations of two office employees, including one who had worked there for nearly two decades.

Town Clerk Lauri Carson, who resigned March 15 after 18 years of working for the town, wrote in documents obtained by the Kennebec Journal that she was subjected to “harassment, discrimination, bullying, and a severe lack of honesty” during Kobrock’s tenure as manager the past two years. In a separate letter addressed to the Winthrop Town Council, Carson wrote that “I can no longer work for a man who treats me the way he does. … I no longer have the heart to be mistreated in his closed door meetings any longer.”

Jeffrey Kobrock has been the Winthrop town manager for the past two years. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

But the town clerk’s job performance was at issue, with concerns about insubordination and poor supervisory actions cited by the town manager, according to the documents.

Carson declined to comment for this report, saying that her attorney advised her not to speak about her resignation.

Former Deputy Town Clerk Tina Cagle, who also resigned in March after one year on the job, told the Kennebec Journal that criticism from Kobrock aimed toward Carson was “totally personal in nature.”

“I don’t know why the hell he didn’t like any of us in the clerk’s office,” Cagle said. “He made it very difficult to do our jobs and do it well. We have not done anything wrong. Lauri has a great record at the state.”

Kobrock did not respond to a written list of questions emailed by the Kennebec Journal. Instead, town attorney Matt Tarasevich contacted a reporter to say Kobrock had no comment and said the Kennebec Journal shouldn’t report on documents that were improperly shared, citing a section of state law for municipal government employees that defines public records for them.

In a follow-up email, Tarasevich said, “The Town will not be responding to your questions, as they involve confidential personnel matters. The Town also will not comment upon the contents of confidential personnel documents.”

Town councilors conducted an executive session relating to a personnel matter prior to their Tuesday night meeting, coming out of the hour-long session without taking any action.

On Wednesday, three town councilors — chairperson Sarah Fuller, Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Alexander — said there was no filing of a grievance by the former clerks, Cagle or Carson, that would have allowed the council to formally address the claims made against Kobrock.

Ms. Carson did not follow procedure as laid down in the town procedural manual,” Peters said. “She had every right to come forward and address the council with this problem, and she made no attempt to do so.”

When asked if there will be any investigation into Carson’s claims against Kobrock, Fuller declined to answer.

We had a pretty lengthy executive session about a personnel issue; I can’t discuss the specifics,” Fuller said. “They are personnel issues, and we are legally bound to not discuss them. I would hesitate to comment further without advice of counsel.”

According to the town’s website, Vernice Boyce is listed as the current town clerk.

Kobrock was hired as Town Manager in April 2019 and was previously city manager in Gardiner and the executive director for the Midcoast Council of Governments and Midcoast Economic Development District.

The documents obtained by the Kennebec Journal detail claims leading up to Carson’s resignation last month, laying bare a dispute between the longtime town clerk and new town manager. The Kennebec Journal was able to verify the authenticity of the documents.

A letter signed by Kobrock, dated March 11, details a reported “history” of employment problems Kobrock saw in Carson, including “failing to communicate” with Kobrock, “exhibiting a deep lack of understanding of your job as a Department Head” and “exhibiting a lack of competence to do your job in a satisfactory fashion.”

“We have discussed this at some length, with no satisfactory change in your behaviors,” Kobrock wrote to Carson. “I cannot allow this to continue. Accordingly, as of today, you no longer have any supervisory responsibility or authority.”

The March 11 letter goes on to state that the stripping of responsibility was “not a disciplinary action” but was meant to “address a history of inadequate performance.”

Four days later, on March 15, Carson handed in a resignation letter addressed to Kobrock, and asked the town to allow her to use compensation time earned as her next two weeks of work, honoring a two weeks’ notice.

“During these past two years, since you have been employed, I have been subject to harassment, discrimination, bullying and a severe lack of honesty,” Carson’s letter to Kobrock states.

On Thursday, in response to a Kennebec Journal records request, the town provided Carson’s resignation letter to the newspaper but redacted the section in which she made claims of improper treatment. The town did not provide any additional documentation, citing confidential personnel records as a reason.

In another March 15 letter, this time addressed to the Winthrop Town Council, Carson informed councilors that she had given her two weeks of notice because she could “no longer work for a man who treats me the way he does.”

“I no longer have the heart to be mistreated in his closed door meetings any longer,” her letter states.

The letter said Carson’s “last straw” stemmed from an incident March 10, when Kobrock reportedly accused her of being insubordinate by not answering her personal cellphone the previous night during a special election.

Carson wrote that she explained to Kobrock “that my phone was in my purse over by the bleachers near the equipment,” the letter to the council states.He called me a liar. The next day he told me to meet him at 9am. At 9am, he gave me a letter. He then said I was demoted and that I no longer am a supervisor; but I still have to perform clerk duties.”

The letter also asks the council to pay out accrued compensation time, which she said Kobrock “has refused to pay” her.

“I worked these hours; I deserve to be paid for my work,” she wrote. “Therefore, I need to go above his head and ask you, the council to be paid for my hours worked.”

When asked about these documents, Town Councilor Priscilla Jenkins said that she was not aware of any problems and was surprised by Carson’s resignation.

There have been things that have clued me into problems,” Jenkins said, adding that nothing concrete showed problems in the office. “There were unanswered questions, there were errors in a variety of ways, all minor as far as I knew, with respect to minutes and postings on the internet.”

When asked to clarify those problems, Jenkins said that some town residents have been frustrated by the scheduling of town office appointments, which she said are booked between three days and 14 days out. Jenkins said that Kobrock has been trying to remedy the problem, but has not been successful.

“He did try and increase the throughput at the town office, and I think that’s a clue as to what is going on,” Jenkins said. “He was not as successful as he has been at other things, so it was a clue to something. Why were they so short-staffed over there? We’ve always been able to run things with two assistant clerks and (the) clerk. For some reason we weren’t meeting that goal.”

Jenkins said she would like to see “some kind of follow up” from the council after the claims against Kobrock. She added that Kobrock has been doing “a fine job” as the manager.

Jenkins said that she thought Carson was a good town employee, and considered her a friend in the office.

Town Councilor Rita Moran said she was never made aware of any complaints made by Carson, and she was concerned that two town employees left in short order.

Moran also said she was never made aware of any problems with Carson’s performance, adding that all of her interactions with Carson have been “positive in the most positive way.”

Town councilors Andy Wess and Linda Caprara declined to comment.

Cagle, the former deputy clerk who started that position in March 2020, told the Kennebec Journal that she quit in response to actions taken by town employees after Carson’s resignation. She said she gave her two weeks’ notice the day Carson was demoted, March 11, but ultimately quit on March 16.

On one occasion, Cagle said Carson was called into Kobrock’s office and when she came out, Carson told her that she was reprimanded and Kobrock was bullying her. Cagle also said she observed Kobrock yelling at Carson on at least one occasion.

Cagle said she did not know what problem Kobrock had with Carson.

“I know what insubordination is,” Cagle said. “That woman is not insubordinate.”

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