2017-11-30 / Front Page

Former Saco P&R employees charged

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Two former parks and recreation department employees have been charged with a Class D crime and summonsed to appear in court early next year.

Former Director of Programs Kevin Lombard and former department Director Joseph Hirsch were charged Wednesday, Nov. 1 with Criminal Invasion of Computer Privacy, which is punishable by up to 364 days incarceration or a $2,000 fine. They’re scheduled to appear in Biddeford District Court on Wednesday, Jan. 17. Both men left the department Friday, Oct. 20. While Hirsch had planned to retire, Lombard was terminated. Corey Morong, a recreation programmer, was also terminated the same day but not charged.

According to Morong, Lombard had access to a seasonal parks and recreation employee’s personal iMessages on a cityowned iPad.

Morong said Lombard called Morong into his office in January and read aloud the personal messages. Morong declined to say what the messages were about. However, he said they were work-related. Morong heard Lombard read the messages a second time a few months later. Morong eventually informed the fellow employee on Sept. 27 that his messages were being read by Lombard. The next day, human resources placed Morong on leave until he met with City Administrator Kevin Sutherland Wednesday, Oct. 18, which was when Sutherland informed Morong he was fired.

“(Sutherland) told me at first he needed to shake the department up,” Morong said. “I did not like that answer. I asked for a better explanation. He said, ‘Corey you knew for so long.’ When it’s your boss it’s a fine line. I don’t want to be insubordinate. I apologize for listening and not saying something sooner. It was a horrible spot to be put in. Why (Lombard) ever called me in I don’t know.”

The seasonal employee did not return a request for comment.

On Oct. 19 Sutherland sent a memo to families with children in after school programs that said two parks and recreation department employees had left the organization. According to a Freedom of Access Act request filed Oct. 31 by The Courier, The memo was sent to nearly 1,000 email addresses. In an email to The Courier, Sutherland declined to speak about the matter.

“The city does not discuss personnel matters,” he wrote. “No further comment.”

Lombard did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a Freedom of Access Act request filed Oct. 31 by The Courier, Sutherland responded to three emails from residents expressing their dismay over the memo they received. Sandy Mekonis, a Saco resident since 2003, also addressed the mayor in her email. She wrote that Saco Parks and Recreation programs, especially theater, have felt like home to her and her family.

“It has to be said that this (theater) program would not exist if it were not for Kevin Lombard and his staff,” Mekonis wrote. “Through the years, Kevin has grown the programing at Saco Parks and Recreation to meet the needs of the residents of Saco and he has managed to do this in a way that is affordable for Saco families. I am a huge fan of Kevin and his efforts over the years to make Saco Parks and Recreation what it is today.”

“It’s a terrible, terrible loss for our community that Kevin is no longer with this program. I do not know if there is any way to undo this decision and bring Kevin back but I am speaking out as a resident who would like to see him back in his role at Saco Parks and Recreation.”

Melissa Nadeau, another Saco resident, wrote to Sutherland about the lack of information and her support for Lombard.

“I have known Kevin for almost a decade,” she wrote. “He made amazing relationships with kids and adults of all ages and earned a whole lot of respect along the way. I have volunteered my time as a team parent, helped with banquets and rode the bus at parades. I was giving my time in support of Kevin’s tireless work and commitment to our community. I fear the future of Saco Parks and Recreation. This wrong needs to be made right. And the people of Saco are owed a better explanation.”

Nadeau said she understands the city can’t divulge specific details.

“However, the email announcing this could not have been any more ambiguous,” she wrote. “All that this communication did was open the door for speculation and gossip. The ramblings and the posts on social media have been ridiculous. Not only does it erroneously tarnish a reputation of a good person, but it makes parks and recreation look extremely bad, and causes people to question the trust they have put into the city administration.”

“(Lombard) is the face of rec to me,” she wrote. “He was always there no matter the time of day. His door was always open. He listened to concerns and answered questions. Kevin never had enough time to do what he did, yet somehow he continuously launched new programs and made existing programs better. He made amazing relationships with kids and adults of all ages and earned a whole lot of respect along the way.”

Sutherland sent a similar response to each individual.

“I do understand that the message community received was rather vague and ambiguous,” Sutherland wrote in an Oct. 30 response to one concerned resident. “Please understand that legally, I am not at liberty to discuss or disclose any personnel matters and kept the letter that way in an attempt to protect those employees. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide additional details.”

Sutherland said Lombard was a “valued member of the team and will be a difficult person to replace,” adding that he’d pass on the resident’s support to Lombard.

Hirsch would not comment on the charges filed against him or Lombard. However, he said he’s spent about 10 hours a week since he retired helping the department until a new director is hired.

“I think it’s important for people in the community to know at no time or point have their kids ever been in any kind of concern,” Hirsch said. “I have had a wonderful 25 years with the city of Saco and enjoyed working with every employee there. I look forward to the next phase of life and enjoying a quiet retirement.”

According to a Freedom of Access Act request filed by The Courier Oct. 31, Lombard had worked for the city since 2003, Hirsch since 1992 and Morong since 2012.

Morong spoke with Det. Fred Williams of the Saco Police Department Thursday, Oct. 5, after police officials contacted him. He said he learned in that interview that he was a witness to a crime but had done nothing illegal. He also learned that Lombard had shared the messages with Hirsch as well.

“Why is (Hirsch) still doing anything for the city?” Morong asked. “He was charged with this crime. Meanwhile I simply listened and didn’t report. The city human resources and city administrator didn’t listen to my story or they wouldn’t have let me go. This isn’t normal. This isn’t how directors should act.”

Saco Police Department Deputy Chief Jack Clements said the investigation is ongoing and is unable to discuss details.

“In reviewing the report I am not comfortable releasing anything at this time,” he wrote.

Morong said he is exploring the legality of his termination from the city. While Morong has found a new job, he filed for unemployment in case he wasn’t able to find one soon enough. Morong lives in Saco with his wife and three children. His wife also works for the parks and recreation department.

A letter from the Maine Department of Labor Bureau of Employment Security stated Morong was justified in not reporting Lombard’s behavior sooner.

“Rule 18 of the Maine Employment Security Law provides that the burden of proof is on the employer to prove that the employee’s conduct meets the statutory definition of misconduct,” according to the letter. “In this case, based on all available information, it has been determined that the employer failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that the claimant’s behavior had risen to a level of misconduct. The claimant credibly testifies that he was afraid to report what was going on, because the person accessing the coworker’s private messages was a member of upper management and he feared for his job. It is reasonable to believe that any prudent person could be hesitant to report something of this nature under these same circumstances. The claimant was the one who finally told the coworker about what was going on, which was a responsible thing to do. Based on the totality of the circumstances presented, it has been determined that the employer may have made a sound business decision, however no misconduct can be found on the part of the claimant.”

Morong said he enjoyed working for the parks and recreation department and that it’s been difficult since he was fired.

“I didn’t break my boss’ trust, though I should have,” Morong said. “Ultimately I tried to keep the trust of my coworker and friend. I would have loved the chance to try and stay on board with different leaders and directors. The city brushed me aside as a part of all of this. They completely mistreated (the employee) through this as the victim of this crime.”

“Obviously I wish things went differently. We moved to this city because of this work. The more people I’ve talked to the more I realize this is very wrong. I want people to know what’s happened so it doesn’t happen to other people.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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