Jim Kenyon: Interim town manager is Thetford’s new plumber

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 1/14/2020 9:58:56 PM

On Monday evening, Thetford residents were introduced to Guy Scaife, their interim town manager, at a Selectboard meeting.

Scaife, who starts work on Thursday, spent 15 minutes telling the 30 or so townspeople in the audience a little about himself. He grew up in Alabama; served in the Army and worked for several Fortune 500 companies before moving into the public sector where he’s overseen the day-to-day operations in a handful of New Hampshire and Connecticut communities during the last dozen years.

After Scaife finished, he asked residents if they had any questions. Alexis Jetter, a Dartmouth English professor and former journalist, had one.

A quick internet search on her smartphone had turned up details that Scaife hadn’t mentioned.

Jetter politely asked Scaife about what had happened in Meriden, Conn., where he was fired as city manager in December 2017, after 15 months on the job. Scaife is now suing the city in federal court for breach of contract.

“It was the first thing I disclosed to the Selectboard,” said Scaife, referring to the interviews that led to his hiring in Thetford.

On Monday, Scaife reiterated a claim made in his lawsuit: He was fired for uncovering wrongdoing by Meriden’s finance director.

After Scaife’s dismissal, however the Meriden City Council’s majority leader told the media it was spurred by “escalating discord.”

What happened in Meriden is “something certain to cause pause, but when you look at the facts, there’s reason to give me the benefit of the doubt,” Scaife said at the board meeting.

Thetford residents didn’t press Scaife for more information, which was understandable. Folks were still reeling from the sudden death of Mike Pomeroy, a popular figure in town, earlier in the day. Pomeroy, 52, was a Selectboard member, coach and general store owner.

Thetford’s town government is going through turbulent times. I’m not sure bringing in Scaife will help.

Last summer, he was the runner-up to Serena Bemis-Goodall, the board’s pick to become Thetford’s first-ever town manager. She lasted five months.

Enter Scaife.

After a couple of closed-door meetings with the Selectboard, Scaife, who lives in North Haverhill, was named interim town manager on Sunday.

He’s signed a six-month contract that pays $48,000, but doesn’t come with insurance or retirement benefits. Both sides willing, the contract could be extended for an additional six months. On Monday, the 69-year-old Scaife told me he’ll stay beyond a year, if the board desires.

From looking at his federal lawsuit, Scaife arrives with some baggage.

Before moving to Connecticut, he was town administrator in Milford, N.H. An email that his former executive assistant in Milford sent to Meriden’s public officials is part of the lawsuit.

On Nov. 30, 2017 — two weeks before Scaife was fired in Meriden — Dawn Griska wrote that she had served as the town administrator’s executive assistant in Milford for 12 years, including several years for Scaife before he fired her.

“He consistently bullied, threatened, intimidated and demeaned employees, volunteers and citizens alike,” Griska wrote. “We were grateful when he left our town, though the damage he caused still lingers.”

After Scaife finished talking with Thetford residents, I asked him about the email. Milford’s selectboard unanimously upheld his decision, he said.

I get that Griska’s email could be the handiwork of a disgruntled former employee. But other documents in Scaife’s lawsuit against Meriden, pop. 60,000, raise red flags as well.

After two years as the town manager in Rocky Hill, Conn., Scaife became Meriden’s chief exec in September 2016 at an annual salary of $165,000.

Less than two months into the job, Scaife “began to discover questionable expenses, improper cost allocations to taxpayers and misrepresentations in the budget that called into question the ethics” of the city’s finance director, the lawsuit states.

In 2018, The Associated Press reported that Scaife had brought the claims to the Meriden City Council, but it didn’t vote to fire the finance director, who denied Scaife’s allegations.

Scaife’s relationship with the city council only worsened with time. In the summer of 2017, he became concerned about a “continuous leak” of information to the city’s daily newspaper, the Record-Journal, according to the 2018 federal lawsuit.

I think it’s fair to say that Scaife didn’t appreciate that the newspaper was being fed negative emails about him.

What did Scaife do about it?

He instructed Meriden’s information technology director to search the city’s email server for recent emails sent to the Record-Journal in an “effort to find the source of the leaks,” according to the lawsuit.

The review determined that at “least one source of the leaks” was a city councilor who was one of Scaife’s biggest critics. “This is now the second council member that I have proven to be actively working to undermine and discredit me,” Scaife wrote in an email to city officials.

When I asked Scaife about the action he took to plug the leaks, he didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.

I do.

It was a not-so-subtle move to stop information from getting out that he didn’t want the public to know about. He used his position of authority to try to silence his critics.

It sounds very Trumpian.

Nick Clark, the Thetford Selectboard chairman, told me that Scaife “adequately addressed” any concerns about his “past employment ” during Thetford’s initial search.

I don’t find that reassuring. Then again, I’m not crazy about public officials who worry about leaks, other than ones coming from a kitchen sink.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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