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Debate centers on manager's review
Some call for investigation into allegations
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff The Boston Globe
The Board of Selectmen's plan to evaluate the town manager before probing an ethics complaint has upset some town officials and residents who contend that the board must first investigate accusations that George P. King Jr. held push-up contests with his assistants and played strip poker with at least one of them.

In the meantime, Seth Levenson, who filed the complaint last week with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, said yesterday that he plans to attend next week's meeting when the selectmen evaluate King to answer any questions regarding his allegations.  Both King and his assistants, Allison and Karen Potter, dispute the allegations.  Allison is Levenson's estranged wife.

In an e-mailed statement to Town Meeting and on an automated community e-mail discussion list, Charles Sisitsky, chairman of the selectmen, said members had not received any complaints or documents regarding this issue, and they intend to conduct a detailed review on Aug. 21 of the town manager's success in achieving the past year's goals.

"It is important that this process move forward and not be delayed or sidetracked by allegations about the manager that have been put forth in a newspaper article," Sisitsky wrote on Monday.

King and the Potter sisters have challenged the accusations and motivation of Levenson, 46, who has been separated from Allison since January.  A copy of the complaint, obtained by the Globe, also alleges that King, 43, violated state ethics laws by having Allison Potter, 30, supervise Karen Potter, 27, in the town manager's office.

"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," King wrote in a statement e-mailed to the Globe last week.

Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl has said that he participated last August in one push-up contest with Karen Potter, but said that the town manager did not order the competition or award any prizes.

Thomas Levenson, Seth's brother and an associate member on Framingham's Zoning Board of Appeals, said Seth confided in him earlier this year about the strip poker and push-up contests.

When asked why he didn't bring the matter immediately to the Board of Selectmen, Thomas Levenson said, "He told me in confidence, and I didn't feel it was my place to take it to another step."

King, who has been separated from his wife since last year, is on a pre-planned vacation.

Dan Gittelsohn, a Town Meeting member, responded yesterday in an e-mail to Sisitsky's statement, saying that he believes the allegations are compelling enough for the selectmen to investigate and delay the evaluation.

Since July 2000, the selectmen have amended King's contract after the review by adding an additional year, and in most cases, increasing his salary.  Last year, King did not have a formal evaluation in large measure because Town Meeting in May voted not to give him a merit raise.  King asked again in November for a raise, at which point Town Meeting approved one.  King currently makes $119,911 a year.

"If you go through with this review, the message you are sending to every taxpayer and voter is you are all in bed together and can do no wrong," Gittelsohn wrote.  Harold Wolfe, a Framingham resident, said he has a list of questions for next week's selectmen's meeting involving the ethics complaint and said, "I simply do not understand why the rush for the review.  Mr. King will not lose a nickel in pay if he is squeaky clean."  Wolfe unsuccessfully ran for the board of selectmen in this year's annual town elections.

Levenson contended in his complaint that 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."

Levenson, who grew up in Framingham and now lives in Woonsocket, R.I., with the couple's two girls, said he prevented his wife from playing the game, and that he believes her nonparticipation was related to her recent layoff and her sister's promotion.

Allison Potter, who now lives in Holliston, called her estranged husband's allegations "blatant lies that are intended to hurt me and anyone associated with me."

Allison Potter now works part time for the town taking minutes for the selectmen's meeting.

Four of the five selectmen have indicated support for evaluating King at their upcoming meeting, and at least one selectman, Christopher Ross, said he has no reason to believe Levenson's allegations.  King's annual review initially had been scheduled for last Thursday, but Ginger Esty, vice chairwoman of the Board, refused to submit her evaluation because King had not supplied information she repeatedly requested regarding water and sewer enterprise funds.

Some town officials have criticized Esty for holding out her review for what they view as an unrelated matter.  The vice chairwoman insisted that she cannot fairly assess King's performance until he accounts for the management of multi-million dollar funds -- information also sought by members of the town's Standing Committee on Public Works.

Katie Murphy, a selectwoman, said she believes it's in the town's best interest to separate the ethics complaint from evaluation.

"We'd be shortchanging the town by not going ahead with the review," Murphy said yesterday, adding that the review provides important insight on how King has fared with the complicated budget and larger management issues.

But, she added, the selectmen "absolutely" need to address the allegations "honestly, openly, and in accordance with the law."

While Murphy called Levenson's plans to attend next week's board meeting premature, selectwoman Esther Hopkins said in an interview last week that it would be helpful to have him stand publicly behind his accusations.

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