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Former town manager of Cohasset sues, says he was fired for whistle-blowing

A former town manager of Cohasset has sued the municipality and its leaders, saying he was fired for blowing the whistle on allegedly improper ­actions by the chairman of the local Water Commission. 

Michael Coughlin’s suit asks a Norfolk Superior Court judge to reinstate him to his former job and award him damages to cover lost pay, benefits, and legal fees. His lawyer, Harold Lichten, said the total could amount to “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

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The suit was filed Dec. 5 and names the town, Board of Selectmen, and Water Commission chairman Peter DeCaprio. None of the officials would comment, saying they had not yet seen the lawsuit.

Coughlin, who lives in Peabody, was fired in March after less than a year as town manager. His lawsuit asserts he was let go for raising questions about potential conflicts of interest involving DeCaprio — in violation of the state whistle-blower statute. 

“The law protects people who see what they believe is wrongdoing and come forward; they can’t be retaliated against,” Lichten said, adding that it doesn’t matter whether wrongdoing occurred, as long as the whistle-blower “reasonably believes” there is a problem.

Coughlin believed DeCaprio acted improperly when his personal lawyer did legal work for the Water Commission, the suit said. Coughlin also objected to DeCaprio’s involvement in the Water Commission’s efforts to find a private company to run the town-owned utility under a 20-year contract — since one of the potential bidders, Aquarion, had a financial link to DeCaprio’s business.

Aquarion is owned, in part, by Macquarie Bank, which partnered with New York investors MD Sass to start ­DeCaprio’s Scituate investment management firm, Crow Point Partners. 

DeCaprio has said that Macquarie’s investment was “less than $15 million, which is less than one one-thousandth of 1 percent of Macquarie’s total assets’’ and that his firm is no longer affiliated with Macquarie or MD Sass.

The dispute between DeCaprio and Coughlin became public, with DeCaprio threatening to have Coughlin removed if he didn’t stop interfering with the Water Commission.

“Mr. Coughlin declined to stand down,” the suit says, and was later fired by selectmen.

The suit also contends that selectmen violated the state Open Meeting Law when they met in executive session in February to discuss Coughlin’s future, and that they violated a local statute by failing to give specific reasons for the job action.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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