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Fired Public Works Director criticizes Wakefield Town Administrator


August 01, 2018
WAKEFIELD — Former Public Works Director Leigh Nichols read a statement during the open comment period of the July 25 Board of Selectmen meeting criticizing Town Administrator Kelley Collins and threatening to take action against her, the board and "certain individuals in town" for their actions, especially for an alleged attempt to remove his wife, Angie Nichols, from her elected position at town tax collector.

The following is a verbatim transcript of Nichols' remarks as recorded in the video of that meeting by governmentoversite.com and can be viewed on its Web site. Our correspondent requested a copy of his Nichols' remarks directly from him, but none was supplied prior to our press deadline. Notes to clarify who is who are added in square brackets; otherwise, the words are Mr. Nichols' own:

"I put my thoughts on paper. I have a few things I would like to say and bring to the attention of the town and its residents.

"There is an old adage that goes 'don't poke a sleeping bear.' In my life, I've found that's an adage that it's best to keep.

"It's one thing to go after me. You poked the bear when you removed me from my position, but I continued to sleep. There is nothing, or no one, in town that scares me. But that was not enough for our administrator. She then decided to go after my wife, an elected tax collector. She wrote a letter to the Board of Selectmen trying to have Angie removed.

"In my honest opinion and my dealings with the town administrator, she has some of the most unprofessional behavior I have seen. Some residents and employees have come to me and said they were afraid of repercussions if they speak out against her publicly or privately. And before it comes up, as it has within the walls of this building, I am not a disgruntled employee. I am a resident of this town, a town I grew up in. I will not watch someone run it into the ground.

"I filed two written complaints about Ms. Collins, one of which was supposed to be investigated by a neutral third party. That party was the town counsel, who works hand-in-hand with the town administrator. The second complaint was filed with the board and the liaison to the DPW. Ms. Twombley [Connie Twombley, selectmen's liaison to the DPW] came down and let me know that we were lucky to have her—she is so knowledgeable—and that sometimes I can get frustrated and get heated. [Selectman] Mr. [Vin] Wallace was at both instances that I filed complaints about the town administrator. He can verify that I never lost my temper, even when she was yelling down the hallway of the town hall and swearing with a resident standing at the tax collector's office. On both occasions, she was swearing like a sailor.

"I never received notification of the investigation of the first complaint [against Nichols] and shortly after the second I was terminated—even after 10 days earlier I had received an evaluation from the administrator stating I had corrected the previous deficiencies responsible for my probation and was removed from the 90-day probation.

"I heard a rumor around town that Mr. Wallace was informed he was trespassing on town property for mowing the grass after some residents voiced their concerns on Facebook.

"Some members of this board have followed this administrator blindly, without doing their due diligence in researching the rules and regulations in state and federal laws. So, in closing, I say to those board members and the administrator, you'd better 'buckle up,' because it's going to be a bumpy road for the board, the administrator, and a few other individuals within town."

There was no response from selectmen or Collins at the meeting, or subsequently, to the charges made in the statement.

During the same public comment period, resident Relf Fogg asked if the town administrator is opening others' mail. Selectmen's Chair Lino Avellani declined to answer the question because it was about a town employee. He reminded Fogg that this was time for comments, not questions.

Fogg commented that he wondered where there is an action against an elected official, how one member can decide whether his position is more important.

Twombley responded, "Relf, you don't know the whole story…there are parts of it you will never know."

Resident Rose Baxter stated she could verify some employees have told her that they have been reprimanded for saying anything about the town administrator.

Baxter also complained that she had applied to serve on town boards but had never been appointed. Twombley informed her that recommendations come from the boards themselves, not selectmen.

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