SKOWHEGAN — Town officials are investigating a selectman following a recent complaint by a municipal official that he made a lewd comment about a woman.

A public records request by the Morning Sentinel revealed a recent email by Selectman Harold Bigelow containing a lewd comment that he mistakenly sent to a number of local leaders.

Bigelow said that he was told late last month of the complaint and that this is the second time in his six months on the board that he had been pulled aside to discuss his behavior as an elected official.

The newspaper learned of the investigation after Bigelow contacted a Morning Sentinel reporter to discuss the complaint made against him.

Harold Bigelow, a Skowhegan selectman, is under investigation by town officials over his conduct as an elected official. Morning Sentinel file

One complaint apparently involved an email that Bigelow had sent to one of the town’s department heads, as well as to the town manager, Christine Almand, and selectmen. The Morning Sentinel obtained a copy of the email this week through a Freedom of Access Act request.

The email, sent Aug. 19, 2021, includes remarks from Bigelow about a bridge closure in town. At the end of the email, Bigelow describes a man he knew from Bingham decades ago who “used to go with a big blonde with monster boobs.” He said Thursday that the email was meant to be a text sent to only one of the recipients on the email thread and he had accidentally copied the entire group instead.

After learning of the complaints, Bigelow said he believes this is an attempt by Almand to have him removed from his seat because he thinks she is dishonest and because he is outspoken on several major ongoing projects in the community. He said as the only member of the board who does not own a business, he “has nothing to lose” in speaking up.

“What I’m doing is unorthodox,” Bigelow said. “I know the capabilities and I know the ins and outs and this is one I can’t ignore. They use this ‘cancel culture’ to shut the board down, the (other board members) all have businesses but I don’t.”

Almand confirmed this week that an investigation was ongoing between an attorney, herself and Bigelow, but she could provide no other details of the complaint. The attorney did not return a voicemail left Thursday.

“I am not prepared to discuss the nature, substance or source of the complaint,” Almand said Thursday. “We have an attorney that we’re working with that we’ve utilized in the past for other personnel matters.”

Christine Almand, the Skowhegan town manager. Morning Sentinel file photo

The complaint against Bigelow comes on the heels of rising professional tensions between some members of the Board of Selectmen and the town manager, which came to a head Dec. 7, when board chairperson Todd Smith had requested an executive session to discuss issues that he had with Almand. The town manager denied the request and the meeting was held in a public forum.

At this Dec. 7 meeting, Smith said Almand has created a hostile work environment for employees and there is “a repeating pattern of behavior” indicating she is being deceptive.

Yet a week later, on Dec. 14, the board approved a new employment contract for Almand, which included an 18% pay increase over two years; Bigelow voted in opposition of her contract.

Bigelow stood by the claims made by Smith previously and said Thursday that he believes Almand is “dishonest and she’s trying to shut me down” as a selectman. “It’s an iceberg. What people see — there’s so much more that’s going on below,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow said that he was notified Dec. 22 that Almand had received a complaint about him alleging that he had been creating a hostile work environment.

Almand could not comment on the claim due to the ongoing personnel investigation.

But prior to this, Bigelow said that he had been spoken to about other complaints in an October executive session between selectmen, Almand and the town attorney. Here, Bigelow said, he learned of three complaints made against him by other town employees.

Neither Almand nor Smith, the board chair, commented on the October meeting this week and said that they cannot discuss personnel matters that were discussed during an executive session.

Another complaint, Bigelow said, came after he made remarks to a different employee about wearing a mask. The third complaint came after a conversation with a town employee where he made comments that made the individual uncomfortable.

These complaints were addressed in that October meeting, Bigelow said, adding that he was read the board’s Code of Ethics by the town attorney. No further action was taken at that point, Bigelow said. Almand did not comment.

When asked, Almand said that this is the first time since she was hired as town manager in 2014 that there’s been an investigation into the conduct of a selectman stemming from a complaint.

Bigelow was elected to his seat last June. Prior to this, he served two full terms on the Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 where he was vocal in his opposition to the removal of the “Indians” nickname for town sports teams. The mascot has since been changed to “River Hawks.”

Bigelow added that he is concerned about the time and money being spent on the investigation and lawyer fees that “the town shouldn’t be paying for.”

“We’ve got too many things going on,” Bigelow said. “(Almand) has been dishonest and she’s trying to shut me down. I voted to go against her contract because I don’t believe she should be rewarded for her actions, but it passed and we gave her a raise. I was voted in for a purpose. I love this town and I love helping the town.”

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