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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Town Manager Monday, August 11, 2003
Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff The Boston Globe
FRAMINGHAM - An ethics complaint filed against Town Manager George P. King Jr. alleges that he played strip poker with his assistants, who are sisters, held push-up contests with them in the Memorial Building, and on at least one occasion awarded the winner a bottle of Grey Goose Vodka.

In a complaint filed last week with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, Seth Levenson, the estranged husband of one sister, also accused King of violating state ethics laws by having Allison Potter supervise Karen Potter in the town manager's office.  King and both sisters disputed the allegations last week.

In an e-mailed statement, King wrote: "These are absolutely absurd and inflammatory personal allegations.  From what I understand the motivation and credibility of the person making the allegations is highly suspect.  This kind of personal and unsubstantiated attack from a person with nothing to lose is what deters most people from participating in government, and the fact The Boston Globe is legitimizing such actions is reprehensible.  The story is grossly unfair to me, my family, friends, and the town.  I will have no further comment."

The two sisters, who worked together for at least two years in the offices shared by the town manager and Board of Selectmen in the Memorial Building, also challenged the account Karen Potter, 27, described the accusations in an e-mailed statement as "either very exaggerated or totally untrue. . . . I find it disturbing that my brother-in-law sees the need to . . . publicly embarrass her friends, family, and coworkers with unfounded allegations."

In a phone interview, Allison Potter, who now lives in Holliston, said, "You've got to be kidding me.  It's not really anybody's business." She called her husband's accusations "blatant lies that are intended to hurt me and anyone associated with me."

A spokeswoman for the state ethics commission said agency policy prohibits her from confirming or denying any complaints or investigations.

In a copy of the complaint obtained by the Globe, Levenson said he personally witnessed the strip poker game last September that " culminated in the complete disrobing of Ms. Karen Potter.  Mr. King did not attempt to excuse himself from said game or situation."

"It's all true," said Levenson, 46, who is married to Allison Potter, 30.  "It may not be illegal, but it's unethical."  Allison Potter and Levenson have been separated since January.

Levenson, who grew up in Framingham and now lives in Woonsocket, R.I., with the couple's two children, said in a phone interview that the incident occurred on a Friday night with several of Karen Potter's friends at her parents' house in Holliston.

In the complaint, Levenson said he prevented his wife from participating in the strip poker game and contends that his wife's subsequent layoff was related to that decision.  "Ms. Karen Potter has subsequently been awarded a new position with corresponding raise; Ms. Allison Potter has subsequently been laid off," the complaint said.

Town officials said the reorganization of King's office was the result of budget cuts.  As of July 1, Karen Potter, who had been administrative assistant to the town manager, took on additional responsibilities and received a raise, boosting her salary from $40,292 to $51,236, according to chief financial officer Robert Addelson.  Allison Potter's $53,629 job as assistant to the town manager was eliminated and she now works part time taking minutes for the selectmen's meeting, earning about $7,500.

Under state ethics law, there are restrictions on siblings supervising each other if there is a financial interest at stake.  King had no comment on Levenson's contention that one sister supervised the other.

Levenson's complaint also alleges that King, who has served as town manager since 1999, "held continual push-up contests with these two Potter sisters.  These contests have occurred in Mr. King's office during working hours.  One such contest culminated in the awarding to my wife by Mr. King one bottle of Grey Goose vodka, which she brought home and related the events surrounding its acquisition."

Framingham Police Chief Steve Carl said that on one occasion last August, he participated in a push-up competition with Karen Potter just before 4 p.m.

Carl said he had finished his workday at the police station and had stopped by the selectmen's office in the Memorial Building.  He said he was discussing female athletes with Potter when she challenged him to a push-up contest.  King was in his own office, which is attached to the selectmen's office, but had not ordered the competition or awarded any prizes, Carl said.  The police chief said King did not participate but was aware of the contest.  King had no comment.

"If there are other push-up contests going on, I'm not sure, and I haven't been invited to them," the police chief said.

Two of five selectmen contacted by the Globe have raised concerns about the truthfulness of Levenson's accusations.  But even those questioning the complaint said they want to receive more information from King, 43, who rose from library trustee to town clerk to town manager of Framingham over the past two decades.  King is expected to have his annual public review later this month.

"It's rather shocking," Selectwoman Esther Hopkins said of the allegations.

If any of the accusations are true, Hopkins said, she was most disturbed by the push-up contests that are said to have occurred in municipal buildings and involved municipal employees.  Hopkins said she didn't think King, whom she described as a good leader, had the time, or inclination, for that sort of activity.

She said she plans to meet with King to discuss the matter.

Allison Potter and Levenson were involved in a custody dispute for several months, but worked out an agreement earlier this summer, according to records in Providence Family Court.  Allison Potter has weekday and weekend visitation rights.

Since the couple separated in January, Woonsocket Police have responded to complaints involving them twice.

In both cases, records show, there was no physical confrontation, and there is no record of a restraining order.

In custody documents filed in the Providence court, however, Allison Potter said she had removed herself from the couple's house in Woonsocket because Levenson referred to her "in profane and degrading terms, and did, on one occasion, forcibly throw one of the children's full dinner plates against the living room wall. " Potter said Levenson "on one occasion" physically assaulted her by "shoving her from the premises when she attempted to enter for purposes of hugging her children goodbye subsequent to the exercise of visitation with the children."

Levenson acknowledges that he threw a dish at the wall but denies shoving his wife.

Last week, Potter filed a motion ordering Levenson to find employment.  He had worked as a carpenter until 2001, when he suffered a knee injury. He has been unemployed since then, according to court documents.

Levenson, who stays at home and takes care of his children, says he is looking for a formal day care job.

Last Tuesday, in an e-mail to the Board of Selectmen obtained by the Globe, King said the allegations "are among stories and rumors that I have heard about for two months - I do not intend to lower myself to the level of defending specific personal allegations or it will be all I end up doing."

Ginger Esty, vice chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen and a vocal critic of King, said she would not want the town manager to be involved in such "totally inappropriate behavior" that she added could expose Framingham to all sorts of lawsuits.

Selectman Chris Ross said it seems "a bit odd" that the complaint has come forward at a time when the board is evaluating the town manager's job performance.

"I don't have any reason to believe what's alleged happened," Ross said.

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