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The Boston Globe

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Freetown

Criticism of town inspector escalates

The town counsel of Freetown is investigating complaints that the longtime building inspector treated residents rudely and unfairly.

Most of the allegations against Paul Bourgeois, who has been health agent and building inspector for more than two decades in this town of 9,000 people, occurred from 2003 to the present.

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At a Feb. 25 selectmen’s meeting, several businesspeople in town alleged that Bourgeois has performed his duties in a petty and mean-spirited manner, has played favorites, and has stonewalled certain projects.

Selectmen went into executive session after the meeting and decided to have the town counsel, the Boston law firm of Kopelman and Paige, investigate the allegations. Town officials did not elaborate and Town Administrator Richard Brown would say only, “This is a personnel matter.”

In recent weeks, about 50 people — five times the usual number — have been attending Board of Selectmen meetings to raise additional concerns about Bourgeois. He remains on the job, but a growing number of residents, including those at a March 11 meeting, have demanded his immediate dismissal.

‘People have been afraid [of health agent and building inspector Paul Bourgeois] for years.’

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When the Globe requested an interview for this article, Bourgeois responded on March 13 with a statement drafted with his legal counsel, Richard E. Burke Jr. of New Bedford-based Beauregard, Burke & Franco.

Bourgeois said he has been fair and accurate during his tenure, and that not everyone will be happy with the person who has to enforce building codes. He added that many of the complaints are news to him, and some are defamatory.

“I look forward to an impartial investigation by the town. I am fully cooperating with the town. I am confident that a full and fair review of all the evidence will show that I have acted ethically” during 26 years of service, he said.

Though the complaints stretch back many years, the move against Bourgeois picked up steam after a dispute last fall with Roger Choquette, owner of Flint Armament, a gun store at the Crossroads Plaza.

At one selectmen’s meeting, Richard Padelford, owner of Crossroads Plaza, said that Bourgeois’ actions forced the gun store to delay its opening for two months, spanning the hunting season.

In an interview, Padelford said that when the store was about to open, Bourgeois told Choquette that he needed architectural, electrical, and plumbing permits, causing delays that cost the store an estimated $300,000 in revenue.

“People have been afraid [of Bourgeois] for years,” said Padelford, a businessman in Freetown for 25 years.

“At the outset, Bourgeois was a tough building inspector, but typical enough — rude, heavy-handed. But as the years passed . . . it got to the point that you never knew what you were going to run into when you went into the Building Department. He might call your request a ridiculous waste of time or he might decide to be helpful,” Padelford said.

In early January, Padelford and Choquette hired Pittman Investigations, a Dartmouth-based private investigation company, to gather information against Bourgeois. The results of the investigation have not yet been turned over to selectmen.

According to investigator Kenneth Pittman, several residents have alleged that Bourgeois confused and frustrated property owners’ efforts to meet building requirements.

In a March 20 statement delivered to Town Hall, George Lambert told selectmen that he and his wife lived at 8 Dunham Road for 12 years. In November 2011, a fire destroyed half of their home. While trying to save what remained, they got a letter from Bourgeois demanding they tear the entire house down or face town action.

Lambert said the couple felt singled out by Bourgeois and that he would make the permitting and inspection process for new construction as expensive and unpleasant as possible, so they moved out of Freetown.

“Having our house burn down after years of work and losing a lifetime of memories was traumatic enough. We decided that we would not put ourselves in a position to be under the thumb of that man again,” Lambert, now a restaurant owner in Taunton, said in the statement.

The private investigation also produced complaints from residents who said Bourgeois was verbally abrasive.

In a statement for the investigator, Sister Joseph Marie Levesque, former director of Cathedral Camp in Freetown, said that in 2005, employees felt intimidated by Bourgeois, who lived at the north end of the property.

She said staff and children ran indoors when Bourgeois’ Doberman pinschers roamed around the camp property, and that he once yelled at the camp director when a sign out front was altered without a permit.

“We dreaded every single time he came onto the property,” said the nun.

Meg Murphy can be reached at msmegmurphy@gmail.com.

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