UPDATED: This Isn’t How a Town Administrator Should Be Reacting

NBC10’s I-Team reporter Parker Gavigan has posted a follow-up to his investigative report showing (allegedly?) Tiverton employee Robert Martin spending 60% of his work time on his own rental properties.  The follow-up article provides reactions from Town Administrator Jim Goncalo, and if anything, parts of it are more disturbing.

Gavigan asks whether Goncalo has ever caught wind of Martin’s activities, and by the substance, the administrator answers in the affirmative, saying “I questioned him and it seemed to be reasonable.”

When an employee went to Goncalo to report Martin, the administrator terminated the whistle blower because of “certain allegations he made toward other employees that would make it impossible for him to work in the presence of these employees.”  He even denies that the employee was “fired,” but rather “was let go.”  Asked what the difference is, Goncalo responds, “the term.”  As Gavigan reports, the letter given to the employee makes the distinction pretty well moot, seeming to indicate that he was terminated for cause.

As an insult to injury, the Town of Tiverton has denied the reporter access to Martin’s time sheets.

The state police are investigating, and we’ll see where this goes, but unless there are some surprises, it’s difficult to see how Goncalo keeps his job.  Of course, this is Tiverton, and this is Rhode Island.  Odds are that too few people will actually learn of the story for its import to overcome the demagoguery and hard-ball tactics that have come to characterize local elections.

Given past history of similar investigative reports statewide, accountability will probably come in the form of a few uncomfortable months waiting for the noise to fade out.  If that’s the case, the Martin was clearly correct to tell Gavigan that Tiverton taxpayers “deserve” this.

Addendum 11/1/13 10:30 p.m.:

Channel 10 has made the video available, and Goncalo’s response seems even less justified when watched. I should note, though, that the video includes an explicit denial from Martin that he was ever working when he wasn’t using days off, vacation time, etc. Although Gavigan states that town documents confirmed that Martin was on the clock, he also states that the town would not give him Martin’s time sheets.

It’s also worth noting that Rhode Island law explicitly allows for the terminated whistleblower, Larry Faulkner, to sue the town, with the possibility of reinstatement, full back pay, additional damages, and court fees.  One wonders if the town administrator was aware of this risk when he decided to let the employee go.  If not, that’s another reason he should keep his job; if so, it’s another reason to wonder whether he had something to hide, himself.

It also appears, by the way, that while NBC10 was previewing its story, Goncalo told the Sakonnet Times that Faulkner wasn’t fired, but quit.

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