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Avon

Ex-water superintendent wants severance

He’s apologized publicly – in a paid advertisement in The Boston Globe – but former Avon water superintendent John Tetreault still hasn’t explained why he falsified water safety records on four occasions when he ran the town’s water system.

And now his attorney has notified the town that Tetreault wants $440,000 in severance pay.

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Tetreault has not spoken publicly nor has he returned numerous phone calls seeking comment since he agreed in July to plead guilty to making false representations in federally required water safety reports. He was sentenced to one year of probation and a $15,000 fine in October, and a federal judge also ordered Tetreault to apologize in the Globe and in two utility trade periodicals.

“During the months of June through December 2010, I knowingly provided false reports concerning Avon’s level of chlorine in its drinking water,” Tetreault wrote in the ad. “Providing false reports of drinking water results is a criminal violation of federal law. I have been prosecuted criminally for this violation and I agreed to pay for this notice to inform the Town of my actions and to apologize.”

But he still has not explained himself.

“It’s a mystery,” said Charles Comeau Sr., a former water commissioner whose son is now on the elected board. “I was a commissioner when we hired John [in 1997] and I have as many questions as everybody else.”

“We’re all curious,” selectmen chairman Francis A. Hegarty said last week. “I’m not sure if we’ll ever know.”

While Tetreault’s motives are murky, the financial repercussions from his actions are clearer: The bill to the town totals more than $320,000, according to Town Administrator Michael McCue. 

The amount includes $30,000 that the town paid Tetreault’s lawyer before refusing to cover any more of his legal bills, McCue said. Other expenses include $15,264 in the town’s legal fees, an estimated $200,000 for water plant improvements, $7,000 for technical assistance, and $20,000 for a system audit of the water system, he said.

In addition, the town was fined $48,800 by the state Department of Environmental Protection, McCue said.

Tetreault’s lawyer, John Perten, also has notified the town that his client wants approximately $440,000 in severance pay.

“He had an employment contract [through 2015] and he’s entitled to certain monies that he hasn’t been paid,” said Perten, who contends that Tetreault resigned his position and therefore was owed salary payment and benefits.

McCue said the town’s water commissioners did not accept the resignation and fired Tetreault on Sept. 18. Aside from paying his accrued vacation time, the town will not pay any more to Tetreault, McCue said.

“Mr. Tetreault was in breach of his contract due to his illegal conduct and hence voided any claims to contractual benefits,” McCue said. Tetreault has not yet sued the town, he added.

Meanwhile, an attempt to use property tax money to pay for the financial fallout from the Tetreault affair has hit a stumbling block. A Special Town Meeting to address the issue failed to draw enough people for a quorum on Oct. 7. Town Clerk Jean Kopke said a Special Town Meeting would be held next year to take up the issue again.

The bulk of the money that needs to be spent is for fixes to the automated Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition program, which manages the water system, McCue said. The program is essentially the brains of the operation.

One of the problems that the state said it found when it investigated Avon’s water department last summer was that an “elastic band arrangement” had been placed on the chemical feed controls at Avon’s treatment plants, allowing plant workers to override automatic safety features.

The investigation followed Tetreault’s guilty plea to two counts of “knowingly and willfully” submitting federally required reports with false information about disinfectant levels at the town’s two water treatment facilities, claiming they met safety standards when they actually did not, according to the US Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case.

Officials said the public health was not threatened, but only because the water happened to be clean and safe without the disinfectant.

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