Two out of three DPW chiefs frown on Milton practice

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An unidentified mechanic, right (image obscured by the Lebanon Voice), works on a car belonging to a relative of Public Works director Pat Smith as Smith looks out a Highway Garage window. (Facebook photo)

COPYRIGHT2017© MILTON - Two out of three local public works department supervisors interviewed by The Lebanon Voice earlier this week said they would neither condone nor allow town employees to work on private individuals' cars at the town garage like has been the practice in Milton.

According to multiple sources, including Milton selectmen and town department heads, the practice has been prevalent in Milton for years and was approved by selectmen in the early 2000s.

The town recently conducted an informal probe into the practice and concluded it had been a long-held tradition to allow such as long as the work was done once the employee was off the clock and with the supervisor's permission, specifically that of Public Works Chief Pat Smith.

Meanwhile, a local insurance broker told The Lebanon Voice recently it's unlikely an individual's homeowner policy, such as Smith's, would cover any property damage claims originating at the town garage during such activity as described by Milton Selectman Andy Rawson.

"It's true that personal liability which is found on most homeowner's policies does follow you around, but usually any claim would initially go to whoever owns the property on which the claim originated," said Joe Turner of Turner Liberty Insurance of Farmington. "If someone trips over a toolbox, the first notice will go to who insures the property."

Turner also said the insurer for the town of Milton could subrogate (or seek damages) against an individual's insurance policy, but that might also be a stretch.

And certainly any property damage claims arising out of an incident at the town garage would unlikely be able to find relief on an individuals' policy.

Moreover, any individual's homeowners' policy would unlikely cover anyone other than the insured, added Turner.

The issue first came to light among Milton residents after a family member of Smith posted on Facebook regarding the repair of their car. In the post is a picture of Pat Smith looking out a town garage window while a town employee can be seen working on the car.

Town Administrator Heather Thibodeau said earlier this month that she, personally, had spoken to at least one town official who said they used to fix selectmen's cars there as well.

Selectmen Ryan Thibeault and Rawson said the practice had been looked into and they had been assured by the town's insurance carrier, Primex, that Primex had no problem with it.

Rawson told The Lebanon Voice last week that the practice was sort of a quid pro quo for mechanics, who use their own tools working at the garage and are given no stipend for doing so.

Rawson also claimed Portsmouth allowed its town garage mechanics to work on private cars, but if that were the case, it is no more.

Portsmouth's Department of Public Works deputy director, Brian Goetz, was blunt when asked whether they approve such repair work.

"We simply do not allow that," he said on Wednesday.

Jim Storer, Director of City Services for Rochester's Department of Public Works, echoed Goetz' sentiments.

"I haven't seen that practice happening, nor would I condone or support such a practice," he said on Wednesday. "Plus it would be a huge liability concern."

Rawson , meanwhile, said any liability with the practice was covered by Smith's homeowner's insurance policy.

Selectman Mike Beaulieu confirmed last week that he was aware of the practice, but refused further comment.

The one DPW supervisor The Lebanon Voice contacted who said he did not have a major problem with the practice was Stan Crowley, fleet manager for the City of Dover.

"We run this garage like a business, and in the private sector they do that," Crowley said on Wednesday. "It's not a common practice, but if it was I would not have a problem with it."

The Lebanon Voice also reached out to Primex for an explanation of how their policy would cover such liability, but did not receive an explanation, however, Mike Ricker, its general counsel, did send an email last week that noted, "I would be constrained by ethical and confidentiality considerations from commenting to any third party about the insured member's liability risks."

The Facebook photo that began the fireworks was taken down shortly after it was posted.

Smith refused any comment today regarding the issue.

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