September 23, 2020

Group seeks resignations of 2 Willimantic selectmen

WILLIMANTIC – A group of residents who had repeatedly pressed town officials for accountability long before an audit discovered funds were missing demanded Thursday the resignations of two selectmen.

The approximately 20 residents who attended a special selectmen’s meeting Thursday also recommended the town proceed with a forensic audit to determine the exact amount of money missing from town coffers.

Both the Maine Municipal Association and Piscataquis County Sheriff John Goggin also have recommended that course of action.

It was announced earlier this week that the preliminary 2006 audit revealed about $42,000 in unaccounted funds and that Jacqueline Gorey, the town’s tax collector and treasurer, had resigned.

No charges have yet been filed in connection with the missing funds, but the Maine State Police have begun a criminal investigation. All of the town’s financial records collected to date have been turned over to Detective Dave Preble.

The former treasurer was bonded, so the town can recoup any provable losses it may have had from illegal activity, but a forensic audit is not a covered expense, Selectman Susan Bennett told residents Thursday.

Selectmen plan to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16, in the town office to appoint a town treasurer and tax collector and to discuss plans for a special town meeting seeking approval for the forensic audit and its funding. For now, the Maine Municipal Association is providing legal advice to the town for free, according to Bennett.

Bennett said selectmen hope to appoint Guilford’s tax collector and treasurer to fill those offices until matters are settled in the community.

Guilford Town Manager Tom Goulette said Friday that his town is willing to help out but selectmen want more details of the town’s expected involvement.

Until that arrangement is confirmed, Willimantic cannot pay bills, Bennett said Thursday. Taxes that have been committed in Gorey’s name also need to be recommitted, she said.

Residents on Thursday supported the move to do their town business in Guilford – the town clerk would still offer her services in Willimantic – but they were adamant about the removal from office of Bruce Thomas and Jeff Morin, who are related by marriage to Gorey. Thomas’s wife is a niece to Gorey and Morin is her son-in-law.

“They protected and covered up for 21/2 years,” resident Rick Packard said of the two men and former selectwoman Debbie Pettigrew, who reportedly has moved from town.

Morin said Thursday that he had offered to resign but was asked to stay on by Thomas and Bennett, who took her seat in August. “I just want to say things are hard enough and confusing enough for everybody right now,” he said, adding that conflicts with one another aren’t helpful. “I’m fully on board to see this through and to make it right.”

Bennett said Morin has been most helpful in getting the needed records and is supportive of a forensic audit. She said MMA said that Morin could vote and continue to serve on the board, despite his relationship to Gorey. She said that an attorney for MMA told her that in a town meeting form of government some conflict of interest rules do not apply. The conflict applies only if they have a direct or indirect financial stake, she said.

“We need to start fresh … an honest person would step down to alleviate any doubt,” resident John Tatko said Thursday.

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