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East Windsor Finance Board Chairman Chastised For Initiating Police Investigation Against First Selectman

An East Windsor Police Department investigation found allegations that Denise Menard was illegally using town gas were "unfounded and unsubstantiated." John Mannette asked the department in July to investigate criminal accusations of gas theft.

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.



Alan Baker September 25, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Hi Dan, My take on the above comments is that people are taking the opportunity to show their support for the candidate of their choice. They have that right - just as you have the right to defend Jack if you so choose as this is a public forum where we are to free to speak our minds. You often have strong opinions and I commend you for taking the time to voice them. But political commentary is easy. One can say what one wants and walk away. It is much more difficult to make a decision that you know some people are not going to like, (and possibly attack you for) and then stand by it. I invite you to join a commission. There's almost always vacancies so it's pretty much a sure bet you can sit on one if you want. From that seat you can use your energy to help keep East Windsor on the right track.
Dan Starvish September 25, 2011 at 09:56 PM
I will keep your thoughts in mind Al in the future and maybe someday I would consider being part of a board. Now, if I were part of a board, and didn't agree with everyone all the time, would I be attacked in the paper and online like this? I dont see any quotes where Jack engaged in "character assassination" Though, I am not defending Jack here. In fact, 4.5 years ago I wrote a stern editorial against the view points of Jack and William Dove regarding police staffing. This is about showing how this town has a group of people, who follow each other like a scout pack on a field trip. Jack should not be attacked in the comments section by the head of the Democratic Town Committee. He is doing exactly what he is claiming Jack is doing as wrong. We can do better. If he acted as part of the Board of Finance without consulting the other members that is clearly wrong and should be handled, even if he is going to be off the board soon. If he acted as a citizen of the town, he should not be the victim of "character assassination" himself. We can stop the childish banter, and we can do better. ALL of them.
Alan Baker September 26, 2011 at 02:53 AM
There's no guarantee when you put yourself out there that you will be treated fairly. And if you run around digging pits for people to fall into, one day you'll fall into one yourself. Both these comments are true in the article above. Jack dug himself a hole, and he's been so disrespectful and mean to so many people that there's no end of people in line with a shovel. You get what you give. Denise actually took a calculator to figure out which gas purchase method was cheaper for the town, found that using the card rather than reimbursement was 4 times cheaper, and got dragged through the mud for it. Not fair. But she will be at work Monday morning doing her job, because she's tough, and a professional. Lastly, when I was being considered by the nominating committee this year, I asked Jason if I was expected to "vote the party line". He basically told me to vote my conscience or go home. You really can't ask for better than that. On a lighter note - be careful how you use the word "townie" weren't you born here too? :-)
Dan Starvish September 26, 2011 at 02:57 AM
If I weren't a townie myself I wouldn't care =D The problem is, I think we need some fresh blood. Some of the imported residents we have seen over the last 10 years when we experienced our housing boom, would be a great addition. It was great to see your name come up as new blood in the mix as well. Change can be a great thing, and I think East Windsor is ready to try something new. I think everyone, every where is ready to try something new.
Marie DeSousa October 03, 2011 at 09:03 PM
I have no problem with someone questioning anything in Town that they feel is improper. But I have a major problem when filling out a police report is the first option. What happened to asking the question during public participation? As a BOF member I wasn't advised by our Chairman even though he filed it as both the Chairman and as a resident. A waste of resoures and legal expense. Always looking forward to new talent to run for office or sit on a commission. I would encourage you to come to meetings so that you get first hand the facts. Nothing political about that nights meeting for both parties weren't happy with our Chairman. We to will take your criticism and do the best we can until someone else steps forward.

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