Denmark board chairman criticized about her service

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

DENMARK — A year after surviving a recall vote, Denmark Selectman Chairman Beverly Caparco is once again facing strong criticisms about her service on the board.

At last week’s selectmen meeting, local contractor Roger LeGoff recited a list of what he saw as questionable actions taken by the board under Caparco’s watch, and suggested she should be replaced when voters go to the polls on June 3. His chief complaint centered on her handling of the suspension one year ago of Code Enforcement Officer Mike Lee by former Town Manager Dan Merhalski. But he also blamed Caparco for other transgressions, ranging from potentially leaking executive session conversations to failing to effectively negotiate the Perley Mills Community Forest acquisition.

Caparco, who is facing a challenge from former Selectman Jay Transue, defended her tenure on the board in a later telephone interview. She also defended Merhalski’s handling of the Lee affair, saying he was “just doing what the board asked him to do.”

Caparco said she had to be careful last year about talking when she faced the recall, but “At this point it doesn’t do me any good not to open my mouth.” She said LeGoff is free to have his own opinion, but “A lot of this is just bunk, because he wants me to look bad” before the elections.

LeGoff led off his comments by asking the board, during public participation, to clear up questions still lingering among residents over Lee’s suspension and the third-party investigation that followed. Lee returned to his job several months later, but rumors persist that Lee stole money from the town, LeGoff said.

“If he has defrauded the town, why is he back in his job?” asked LeGoff. He also asked why Lee wasn’t given an explanation when the issue came up at a board meeting last September.

All three board members said they couldn’t discuss a personnel issue with the public present, but that Lee was given a full explanation in private. “If he chooses to talk about it, that’s up to him,” Caparco said. “I am not, cannot and will not.”

Selectman Richard Snow added that, “There is current things going on that the board cannot discuss this in public. Until this action has come to a completion, the board cannot speak about it in public. It’s like a gag order.”

Lee could not be reached for comment.

When asked about LeGoff’s reference to fraud, Caparco said later, “Those were Roger’s words — we never said that.” She said, “Mike is quite aware of what our complaints were,” and added that the dispute between Merhalski and Lee came after a shouting match in Merhalski’s office. “Both claimed the other yelled first,” she said, and selectmen chose a middle ground in responding to the problem.

LeGoff followed up with his questions about Lee by reading a written statement directed at Caparco.

“The town has spent $36,000 in legal fees to cover Merhalski’s unprovoked psychotic rampages against Mike Lee,” he said. “You have fostered an environment where an unseasoned town manager had free reign to harass Mike Lee, now a 13-year employee and longtime resident of Denmark.”

LeGoff said that last fall, Caparco, Snow and then-selectman Ed Enos “refused to engage the citizens when a large group of people didn’t like what Merhalski was doing to Lee,” and that the town had to pay nearly $3,200 to fix mistakes that were made by the interim code enforcement officer while Lee was on suspension.

LeGoff also said Caparco “refused to address an issue I brought before this board concerning (another) town employee,” which had been relayed to him by one of his customers. Responding to that charge later, Caparco said she had told him the complaint needed to be made directly by the person involved, but that the board had addressed the concern in any case.

LeGoff said the board gave up too much control when it negotiated the Perley Mills land acquisition from the Loon Echo Land Trust, and that managing the forestland “will be a money pit for years to come.”

Caparco disputed that charge, saying “Perley Mills is a great resource for the town,” and that the only cost to taxpayers is paying real estate taxes. She said the board, through the Perley Mills Commission, is now working on a plan to have the Bridgton portion of the forest be tax exempt, by creating a 501(c3) nonprofit. As for the charge that LELT has too much control over what takes place in the forest, she said, “All of their rules are coming down for the sake of the land and its preservation.”

Caparco also responded to the leak of information charge by saying, “I never leaked executive session conversations — I don’t know where that’s coming from.”

Far from being a critic of Merhalski’s performance as town manager, Caparco praised him in the telephone interview. “He did a great job, and it was a great loss” when he resigned last May after some vocal residents called for his removal. “He was hired fair and square, and I felt he handled Mike Lee the best he could,” she said.

Caparco didn’t appear upset by all the charges leveled at her by LeGoff, which also presumed she was responsible for taxes going up by 25% this year — due mostly to increases in the SAD 72 school budget.

“I think if I personally, by myself, could do all of this, that makes me a pretty powerful person,” she said. At the meeting, she told LeGoff, “You are free to have your own opinion, as is everyone else in this town.”

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