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Allegations won't affect King's review Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Peter Reuell Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Selectmen yesterday said an ethics complaint filed by the estranged husband of a former assistant to Town Manager George King likely won't play into King's performance review next week.

In interviews yesterday, selectmen said the complaint -- alleging the town manager played strip poker with a former assistant, as well as other charges -- is troubling.  But they insisted they don't know enough about the complaint, filed with the state Ethics Commission, to factor it into King's annual review.

"Well, what we're dealing with here are allegations that, at this point, have been put forward," Selectman Christopher Ross said.  "(But) there has been no written notification.  Nothing has been presented to us that puts any flesh on this right now."

Ross said he expects the review, set for a week from this Thursday, to go forward as planned, and insisted board members aren't trying to sweep the ethics charges under the rug.

"Those are very serious charges, and we aren't ignoring them," he said.  "But at this point, we're dealing with something that is not conclusive."

The complaint, first reported yesterday in the Boston Globe, claims King participated in a strip poker game with Karen Potter, one of his assistants, while her sister, Allison Potter, his other assistant, looked on.

The complaint filed by Seth Levenson, Allison Potter's estranged husband, also claims King hosted regular push-up contests in town offices and once presented the winner with bottle of liquor as a prize.

Levenson claims in the complaint he stopped his wife from playing in the strip poker game and believes that decision came into play in her eventual layoff, while Karen Potter was promoted and given a raise.

Reports published in the MetroWest Daily News, however, quote Allison Potter as saying she resigned from the job.  She now works part time, taking minutes of selectmen meetings.

King is estranged from his own wife, and has been living in a Framingham apartment for close to a year.  On Monday he issued a stern denunciation of Levenson's claims.

"These are absolutely absurd and inflammatory personal allegations," King wrote in an e-mail to the Boston Globe.  "The story is grossly unfair to me, my family, friends and the town."

In separate statements, the Potter sisters pointed to the strained marriage as Levenson's motivation for making the charges.

"I find it disturbing that my brother-in-law sees the need to...publicly embarrass her friends, family and co-workers with unfounded allegations," Karen Potter wrote in a statement to the Globe.

Allison Potter went even further, calling the charges, "blatant lies that are intended to hurt me and anyone associated with me."

All three could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the charges could not come at a worse time for King.

Selectmen have been poised for weeks to publicly review King's performance as the town's chief executive and may be hard-pressed to turn a deaf ear to the ethics charges.

"Of course, I'm looking at it very, very seriously," Selectman Katie Murphy said.  "But I feel it's at the beginning, and I'll wait and hear all the information and all the evidence."

Murphy and other board members questioned whether the incidents alleged in Levenson's complaint rose to the level of major ethics violations, or simply illustrated poor judgment, if they occurred.

"I don't want to sound like I'm not concerned about things like this, but my feeling is people have a job description," she said.  "If that person is doing it well and professionally...I don't really care.  I am far too busy to care what anybody else does on his or her own time."

The board must also carefully consider the source of the allegations, Ross said.

"You have to realize, it's part of a divorce proceeding," he said.  "People that are going through that process tend to do things...they might regret later on.

"If any of this ever really comes before us, I think we need to seriously investigate these charges, but that's really getting before the story here," he said.  "We need to have a whole lot more concrete material before us before we respond to that."

At least one board member, however, said the charges may only hint at other concerns.

"It opens the door to discussing some personnel management (questions)," said Selectman Ginger Esty, the board's most vocal critic of King.

Esty was the lone board member who did not submit comments as part of King's review.  Yesterday said she held back over concerns about water and sewer billing, not because she got wind of the ethics complaint.

Allegations of one sister supervising the other, and questions of whether the two assistant positions were properly posted were among the concerns she may now raise, Esty said.

"If these allegations stand up, then anyone in the building can claim that if they have been let go, or they haven't had a raise and somebody else has, (that) there was unfair power...with the sisters and their relationship with the manager," she said. "So that could get serious."

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