Portland’s social services administrator has been fired following an investigation into concerns raised by employees and managers, according to documents provided to the Press Herald in response to a public records request.

But an attorney representing David MacLean, who was terminated on May 15 after spending 13 weeks on paid administrative leave, says his client was let go after raising concerns about the city’s plans to build a new homeless shelter and is being punished for being a whistleblower.

MacLean was informed of his termination in a letter from Kristen Dow, the city’s Health and Human Services interim director, who pointed to a “concerning” lack of knowledge about Portland’s $11.9 million social services budget and concerns raised by his employees. He earned about $85,500 a year.

“The investigation … made it apparent that you do not have staff confidence in your ability to lead your Division,” Dow wrote.

Attorney Jonathan Goodman, who represents MacLean, said his client will likely take legal action against the city.

Goodman described MacLean as a dedicated, passionate employee and whistleblower who was fired after raising concerns about the city’s proposed 150-bed homeless services center. He said MacLean had an “impeccable record” in his four years with the city and certainly didn’t deserve to be escorted out of City Hall. MacLean also has nearly four decades of experience working for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Goodman said he could not provide any details about the issues MacLean raised and that MacLean would not answer questions in light of the potential litigation.

“In summary, he spoke out on some legal issues on the new shelter,” Goodman said in an interview Tuesday. “Then overnight, he goes from being a rock star to being escorted out of the building and put on administrative leave. … To come down on him the way they did – it just makes no sense.”

A city spokeswoman said the termination letter includes the actual reasons for the dismissal, and she would not comment further on the Goodman’s statements. The letter does not mention the shelter plan or disagreements about policy.

“The termination letter outlines quite clearly the reasons for Mr. MacLean’s dismissal,” Communications Director Jessica Grondin said. “As is our standard practice, we will not be commenting further given this is a personnel matter.”

MacLean’s dismissal is the most recent departure of top social services officials. Dawn Stiles resigned as the head of DHHS on Jan. 11, after four years on the job. She gave the city two-months notice and her last day was March 7.

The city is expected to make a formal announcement about a permanent new director soon, Grondin said.

Also, Rob Parritt left his job as the director of the Oxford Street Shelter last October, citing the stresses of the job. He has been replaced by Sara Fleurant, who previously worked as the program coordinator in support services at the city-run shelter.

MacLean’s departure stands out, however, since it followed an extended period of leave and an investigation by an independent labor attorney that resulted in his termination.

The city would not provide the investigative report by that outside labor attorney, Dawn Harmon, saying it was confidential under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. It did provide a termination letter in response to the Press Herald’s public records request.

MacLean became the city’s social services administrator in 2015, after having worked for the Maine DHHS for 37 years, including four years as the state General Assistance program manager.

His job included overseeing the city’s General Assistance program, homeless shelters, Community Support Fund for asylum seekers and other social services. His division was authorized to have nearly 88 full-time positions in the current budget, including seven who reported directly to MacLean.

Dow said in her May 15 termination letter that “six of your seven direct reports expressed significant concerns about your leadership, engagement, and knowledge of the work. At least three of those individuals were interviewed at your suggestion.”

Dow wrote that during an April 22 meeting, MacLean had raised concerns about the investigatory process and wanted the city to conduct a survey of staff. When told of the concerns raised by his employees, MacLean blamed staff for not bringing those concerns to his attention, she said.

“This statement, which you repeated several times during our meeting, highlights your lack of leadership and understanding of your job duties,” Dow wrote. “It is never the job of subordinates to coach their supervisor on how to lead.”

Dow also noted a “concerning” lack of understanding about the social services budget and staffing, including per diem staff.

MacLean claimed not to have been receiving monthly financial reports, but the investigation proved otherwise, Dow wrote.

Social service spending has been in the spotlight recently. Through April, the city exceeded spending for the $200,000 Portland Community Support fund by $35,000. The fund is used to provide aid to asylum seekers not eligible for state assistance.

Dow said “perhaps the most egregious” factor was MacLean’s response to reports of verbal and physical abuse being experienced by staff at the city’s homeless shelter.

“You claimed that you were aware of the verbal and physical abuse of shelter staff and simply stated that you gave them the tools to manage such abuse,” Dow said. “However, you provided no details of steps that were taken to protect and support them, and it was very clear that they did not feel protected or supported.”

Goodman said the contents of the letter were surprising to MacLean. He emphasized that the city never once raised concerns with MacLean about his leadership of the social services division.

“He cares deeply about his job and the people who work for social services,” Goodman said. “He was really shocked about some of the things that were said about him by people he thought were his closest coworkers and friends. The whole thing just makes no sense.”

Goodman said they are still considering legal options, including filing a claim that the city violated Maine’s Whistleblower Protection Act. The case could play itself out confidentially, depending on the legal venue, he said.

“We’re still evaluating the claims and the nature of the appropriate remedy,” Goodman said. “We expect to do something very quickly.”

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