Maine Fire Chief, Deputy Accused of Misuse of Funds

May 8, 2013
The chief of the Mattawamkeag Fire Department and his wife, who is the deputy fire chief, have been suspended without pay for alleged misuse of department funds.

May 08--MATTAWAMKEAG, Maine -- Town leaders are seeking the resignation of Fire Chief Robert Powers after he and his wife, Deputy Chief Lynne Powers, were suspended without pay for an alleged misuse of funds that state police are investigating, the Board of Selectmen's chairman said Tuesday.

The Board of Selectmen emerged from a 30-minute executive session and voted 3-0 on Monday to seek Powerses' resignation, Chairman Bion Tolman said. The Powerses, who were placed on administrative leave about a week ago, did not attend the meeting, Tolman said. Robert Powers had not, to Tolman's knowledge, responded to the request to resign.

The board might seek Lynne Powers' resignation when it meets next, on May 20, Tolman said.

"Our attorney advised us to do this one at a time," Tolman said Tuesday.

Both Powerses have returned any firefighting equipment the town gave them as part of their jobs, Tolman said.

The Powerses did not return messages seeking comment on Tuesday.

Firefighter-engineer and emergency medical technician Michael Coombs, a 35-year firefighting veteran and former Mattawamkeag fire chief, confirmed he has been appointed to temporarily succeed Powers as chief. He declined to comment on the suspensions.

"We are in pretty good shape," Coombs, 53, said Tuesday. "Like any other [volunteer] department, we could always use more help, but we are in good shape. Things will continue as they have been."

State police Trooper Thomas Fiske has been investigating the alleged misuse of town funds for about a week, Tolman said. Tolman declined to discuss the amount of money supposedly involved.

"We are not really sure yet what is involved, but it was enough to warrant our doing what we did," Tolman said.

Fiske did not immediately return a telephone message left Tuesday.

A representative or representatives for a vendor with whom the town does business contacted town officials about a week ago to report what they described as a possible misuse of town funds, Tolman said.

"They had discovered something that they thought was alarming. They felt it was a situation that should have been immediately addressed," Tolman said.

Tolman declined to discuss the merchant's claims. The board has been consulting with its attorney, Robert Hark of Portland, to ensure the matter is being handled appropriately, Tolman said.

Hark declined to discuss the matter, saying it was a personnel issue. Selectman Edward Richard did not return a message seeking comment, and Selectman Joseph Murray has an unlisted telephone number.

Robert Powers has been chief of Mattawamkeag's part-time and volunteer Fire Department off and on since November 2003. His tenure was interrupted for three months in 2005, when selectmen voted 2-0 to refuse his letter of resignation after he had a dispute with another town official whom he and selectmen declined to name.

A Lincoln resident and full-time worker at Lincoln Paper & Tissue LLC, Powers accepted what was then a $500 per month position in November 2003. He resigned for personal reasons in August 2003, Clark said. He was rehired in November of that year -- a testament to town leaders' approval of Powers' work, selectmen said at the time.

Powers is not the first town fire chief to resign. In October 2003, Assistant Chief Hans Miller, Rescue Chief John Heald and Fire Chief Frank Hammond -- Powers' predecessor -- resigned, and the town's fire rescue squad dwindled from 28 members to nine. Fire rescue team members alluded to micromanagement of the team by certain town officials and said they "cannot in good conscience recommend anyone for the chief's position."

In November, Powers helped the town find a 2006 ambulance that replaced a 1996 model. The ambulance company of seven emergency medical technicians and six drivers handles about 140 calls a year, Powers said at the time. It services the residents of Mattawamkeag, Winn, Kingman and Prentiss, usually delivering patients to Lincoln's Penobscot Valley Hospital or Millinocket Regional Hospital for emergency care.

Copyright 2013 - Bangor Daily News, Maine

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