The Kittery Town Council says two of its members resigned rather than face censure for allegedly “improperly interfering” with personnel matters when they investigated town employees taking their lunch break.

But one of the councilors, Charles Denault Jr., said he did nothing wrong or illegal when he followed up on reports of town employees running personal errands while on the clock. He also accused the town of “implicit defamation.”

In a statement released Thursday night, the council said Denault and Councilor Kenneth Lemont were asked to resign “because both councilors violated the town charter by improperly interfering with the administration of town personnel matters” by investigating employees. The council this week accepted the resignations of Denault, a retired Kittery police officer, and Lemont, who had served as the board’s vice-chairman.

“The councilors here performed their own investigation of what they perceived as problems,” the other council members said in a joint statement. “This included meeting with town employees, following and surveilling female employees on their lunch hour, and presenting a narrative report with photographs to the (town) manager with the expectation that she would take adverse action against certain employees.”

Both men have denied wrongdoing and Denault said he was trying to shine a light on “apparent misuse of town resources.”

In a written response Friday to the council’s statement, Denault said he did nothing illegal and accused the council of “shooting the messenger” rather than addressing potential personnel issues. Denault said it was that mindset that prompted him to resign after seven years on the council.

“In an obvious attempt to shift the discussion by creating the inference of illicit motives, the town has issued a statement that I was ‘surveilling females,'” Denault said. “In fact, regardless of gender, I was following-up on reports of town employees running personal errands while being paid by Kittery taxpayers. Whether those employees happen to be male or female was of no moment; I felt – and feel – obligated to either document such abuse or to confirm that it was unfounded, and that is exactly what I did.”

Lemont said in a March 9 resignation letter that he was stepping down from his position because of personal health issues that need to be his priority.

Neither Denault nor council Chairman Jeffrey Tomson would provide additional details about the personnel matters at the center of the dispute. But the council’s statement said that Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral and an independent investigator looked into the claims against the town employees “and found that no town policies or procedures had been violated.”

The statement did not detail the nature of the claims against the employees or provide details about how many workers were involved.

Denault said in an interview that he was “perplexed that the town came to that conclusion with the evidence that was presented.” After hearing complaints from other town employees, Denault said he raised the concerns he was hearing with Amaral but nothing came of it. So he opted to look into the issue after the complaints “just kept coming.”

Tomson and Councilors Judy Spiller, Jeffrey Pelletier, Cyrus Clark and George Dow were “prepared to proceed with a public process to censure Councilor Lemont and remove Councilor Denault from office,” according to the statement. Tomson said on Friday that he would not comment on the situation beyond the statement, which he said was crafted by a town attorney and unanimously supported by the council. Amaral did not respond to an email or phone message on Friday.

In his resignation letter and in an interview, Denault said he has striven to ensure transparency and fiscal responsibility since joining the council seven years ago following his retirement from the Kittery Police Department. He described his relationship with some other councilors as contentious, citing “differences of opinion and spirited debates.”

“It was a tough decision (to resign), but I felt that I could be more effective as a citizen than as a councilor,” he said.

Lemont told the Portsmouth Herald that his involvement in Denault’s surveillance was minimal and that health reasons were the major factor in his resignation. Lemont said he did ride along with Denault as his fellow councilor was doing an investigation and later met with the Denault and Amaral, but did not take photos and denied any wrongdoing, the newspaper reported.

In his resignation letter, Lemont said he enjoyed his time as a town councilor and being part of policies that benefitted Kittery residents.

“I would like to think during the many years of service to the citizens of Kittery, I have helped many of them in a positive way,” Lemont wrote.

The Town Clerk’s office on Thursday posted a notice on the town website saying that nomination papers are available for the two open council seats. Those seats will be filled during a Town Meeting election on June 8.


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