Naples mom starts petition to remove rec director
By Dawn De Busk
NAPLES — A Naples resident, who is a working mother with four children in the school system, has started an online petition to remove the Naples Recreation Director Harvey Price from his position.
The goal was to get 1,000 signatures.
As of Wednesday morning — seven days after the online petition was launched, there were 266 signatures in favor of firing Price.
However, according to the Naples Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak, “a municipal employee cannot be terminated without just cause.”
For Suzanne “Suzi” Deschenes, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back happened on Thursday evening. After a negative encounter with Price, and not the first one, Deschenes set up the Internet petition, she said.
Thursday, she showed up for the equipment handout for the Naples Recreation Department’s football program. Her two sons, a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader, had already been registered and the $70 fee had been paid for both boys to play the fall sport. However, after waiting in line for an hour and 15 minutes, she was told by Price that the boys could not participate because she owed a debt of $202 from the summer recreation department program, she said.
According to Deschenes, Price told her that her children could not participate. She said their sports registration fee had already been paid, and that she was not going to allow her children to be denied the chance to play football this year.
At that point, Price called the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) to have her removed from the town-owned sports field, Deschenes said.
Rather than wait to have the matter resolved with law enforcement, Deschenes left. The reasons she cited for leaving before a sheriff’s deputy arrived was that she did not want her employer, a conservative bank, to read about it in the police report. Also, she wanted to save her sons the embarrassment of something that might be talked about at their schools. Already, the boys were horribly disappointed and the youngest one was crying in the car, she said.
“I was waiting in line for more than an hour. He (Price) saw me. He could have pulled me aside and said something,” she said.
On Monday, her two sons were out on the Plummer Fields taking part in football practice with their peers.
According to Paraschak, “the balance (a $202 debt from the summer recreation program) was paid. The kids are all set up to play sports.”
He spoke briefly about the petition, but could not talk about Price’s behavior since personnel matters are legally considered private, not public, information.
When asked about reports that residents have complained about the recreation director, and never got any resolution, Paraschak said, “Yes, I’ve received complaints over the last two years. But, (the complaints) are always issues-oriented: people who were kicked off the beach for inappropriate behavior or drinking alcohol on the playground.”
“There are not 100s of complaints hidden in drawers. Usually, it’s an issue with a town policy or being asked not to do something.”
“The danger with online things is that they spread like wildfire. If anybody has an issue just come see me,” Paraschak said.
Now that her boys have joined the football league, Deschenes has no intention of abandoning the online petition, and is hoping for a public forum to discuss Price’s behavior.
“I need to stick it out, for the other 257 signatures,” she said on Monday night. “It would be unfair to ditch the cause just because my kids got to play football.”
One theme that came to light from the people who wrote comments in that section of the online petition was that other people have experienced similar negative encounters with Price. Sometimes, they thought it was a singular interaction. Many comments were along the line of “I thought I was the only one.”
Deschenes said she graduated from the local high school, and returned to the area to raise a family 10 years ago. With four children in the school system, she has talked to other parents and heard complaints about some children being turned away from sports for minor, resolvable reasons, she said.
“Kids shouldn’t be treated that way. He shouldn’t be putting up barriers to kids playing recreation sports. For some of those kids, sports are one of the best things they’ve got going in their life,” Deschenes said.
“I know lots of coaches who won’t coach because of him,” she said. “I am ashamed I didn’t do something sooner.”
Regarding the petition, there were 125 comments as of Wednesday morning. Roughly 70 percent of the comments are in favor of Price being removed from his position. Most of those people cited specific incidents in which they thought Price had handled a situation unfairly or rudely. A small percentage of the comments are cruel — attacking Price directly rather than discussing the job he is doing.
About one-third of the online comments are either in favor of Price or condemning the online chastising of him. Of those, some peopled cited examples of his hard work in the community and his positive interactions with many of the youth in town.
Price did not return calls to his voice mail at the Naples Recreation Department and the New Gloucester Recreation Department or his cell phone. On Monday night, he was physically provided with a card, listing contact numbers that Bridgton News reporter could be reached from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. At the time, he said he would be too busy with work and after-school sports, and needed to spend time with his family in the evening.
Deschenes’ online petition starts off with the premise, or reasoning, behind it.
“Harvey Price is an abusive, discriminatory bully who consistently oversteps his authority, creates his own rules on the fly and puts what is easiest and most convenient for his inflexible needs over the children of this community. Harvey does not deserve his position as Rec Director for the Town of Naples, Maine, and our children and community deserve better. It is time to stop his tyranny and as taxpayers, it is our job to step up, speak up and put an end to this abuse of power,” she wrote.
On Tuesday evening, Deschenes made an entry on the ipetition page, asking people to “please withhold the inappropriate, off-topic and personally hurtful comments.”
She said she has a strong support system in Facebook friends and family. Also, she is getting an unexpected response from people in the community of Naples.
“I walked into Rite Aid, and one the cashiers gave me a high five. That isn’t what I wanted,” she said. “I feel bad. But, he is not the right guy for the job. I personally don’t want to hurt him. He is a hardworking guy. This isn’t the job for him.”