A complaint from the board of finance chairman that prompted an investigation by the East Windsor Police Department of the first selectman outraged members of the board Wednesday.
On July 8, board of finance chairman John Mannette filed a complaint that he’d been informed by others that First Selectwoman Denise Menard had been pumping gas from a town pump into her personal car.
In a September 20 letter to Menard, Police Chief Edward DeMarco Jr. said “This matter was in fact fully investigated to include numerous interviews, statements, and all relevant follow up inquiries that were required to completely look into the allegation were conducted. After this exhaustive process, the matter was found to be unfounded and unsubstantiated. As there is no probable cause to show that any criminal conduct occurred and that the allegations are unsubstantiated, I closed this matter as ‘unsubstantiated.’”
For weeks, rumors about Menard being investigated have circulated the community.
Menard went in front of the board of finance Wednesday saying she was there to clear up any doubt about the issue Mannette asked to have investigated.
“I am here merely to put to rest any speculation that I have done anything wrong or secretive and would like an answer in the near future as to whether Mr. Mannette acted on the behalf of the board of finance or his own personal reasons,” Menard said.
Board of finance members said they were unaware of Mannette’s contacting the police department and that he should have discussed any allegations with the rest of the board before he took any action.
“What you just did now is take the credibility of this board and destroyed it,” board member Marie DeSousa said. “You’re not running for re-election in two months so you will be off the board and can’t do any more damage. Otherwise I’d ask for a no confidence vote and get you off the board.”
Initially, Mannette refused to comment on the investigation saying it was not the appropriate time to discuss it. Other members of the board voted to add the issue to the meeting’s agenda to discuss Mannette’s actions.
Mannette said he had received input from various people and he went to the state’s attorney’s office and was advised to go to the police because it was a possible crime involved. Mannette said he hadn't read the police report and wouldn’t read information provided to the board at Wednesday’s meeting.
“If they exonerated Denise, she’s exonerated,” Mannette said.
Board Member Danelle Godeck asked if Mannette is receiving complaints from the public about town isn’t he supposed to share those communications with the rest of the board.
Board Member Jason Bowsza said Mannette’s actions could create liability problems for the rest of the members of the board if Menard decided to sue.
“This does affect all of us,” Bowsza said. “The question is whether or not it’s fair to drag us into something we did not know about.”
Bowsza and others asked Mannette if there were any other surprises that the board should be concerned about. Mannette said he wouldn’t comment.
Menard explained that shortly after she took office she noticed how much driving the job entailed and asked administrative assistant Becky MacDonald how previous first selectmen had handled compensation for mileage. MacDonald told her that they either got mileage reimbursement or were issued a personal identification number and password to pump town gas into their cars, she said.
Menard said using a spreadsheet she compared the cost of being reimbursed at the IRS mileage rate or pumping gas from the town’s pump was more cost effective. She said she determined that the mileage reimbursement would cost the town four times as much.
Menard said she then told the board of selectmen in February 2008 of her idea and the members approved it. The issue has been discussed every year at budget time, she added.
She said she never hid the fact she was using the town gas, always pumping in the daytime and frequently in front of various town employees.
“If either the board of finance or Mr. Mannette personally had questions regarding use of town gas, instead of wasting significant police time and an atmosphere of whispered suspicions for the last two months; research of board of selectmen minutes, a question to any of the selectmen of the last four years or a phone call to the treasurer’s or my office could have saved everyone time, money and gotten the answers to any and all questions,” Menard said in a statement to the board.
Bowsza said after the meeting Mannette’s complaint was done without the knowledge of the rest of the board. The problem, he said, is the perception that if Mannette does this as chairman of the board, he has the support of the board. He said he believes the incident was the result of election season politics.
“He had no evidence, no first-hand accounts,” Bowsza said. “All it is is election year politics.”
In a conclusion to the investigative report, Sgt. Kenith S. Smith, who oversees the detective bureau, said the allegations made by Mannette were unsubstantiated for the following reasons:
- Shortly after Linda Roberts took office as first selectman in 1997, she changed the policy regarding gas usage, referred to by Thomas Clynch, to a mileage reimbursement policy.
- Shortly after Denise Menard took office she asked Administrative Assistant Becky MacDonald what prior first selectmen had done regarding gas usage. Menard said she was told that they took gas or mileage reimbursement.
- On February 16, 2008, the board of selectmen held a budget workshop meeting, in attendance were Menard, Gilbert Hayes, Mark Simmons, Dale Nelson and Edward Farrell, who is now deceased. The third page of minutes from that meeting reports that town does supply the first selectman with gas. The minutes were received by the town clerk’s office on February 27, 2008.
- On March 4, 2008, the board of selectmen approved the February 16, 2008 budget workshop minutes.
- Hayes, Simmons and Nelson were interviewed in 2011 and acknowledged the accuracy of the minutes from February 16, 2008.
Mannette said the issue would be on the agenda of the board of finance’s next meeting.