Sturbridge senior center director resigns in dispute over cabinet

STURBRIDGE – Facing termination over questions about the location of a piece of secondhand furniture bought for public use, Senior Center Director Melissa Beauchemin resigned Tuesday night. 

Mrs. Beauchemin signed her resignation papers after appealing to selectmen to let her keep her full-time job.

Town Administrator Leon A. Gaumond Jr. asked the selectmen to fire the director for “apparent misappropriation of town property,” compounded by “misrepresenting the situation to the town accountant and to the town administrator.”

Mr. Gaumond told selectmen that Mrs. Beauchemin kept a vintage corner cabinet, paid for with “roughly $300” from the gift account meant for seniors, at her house for 14 months, and then “lied” to the town accountant and town administrator when asked about its whereabouts.

Mr. Gaumond said that on Dec. 1, Mrs. Beauchemin said the cabinet had been in the senior center since it was purchased in September 2016. However, on Dec. 12, Mrs. Beauchemin “came clean” that the furniture had been at her house the entire time, Mr. Gaumond said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mrs. Beauchemin insisted that she had never said the cabinet was “always” in the senior center. She said that the cabinet was in the senior center by the time of her Dec. 1 meeting with Mr. Gamound.

On Dec. 12, the town administrator placed Mrs. Beauchemin on paid administrative leave and told her that he was proceeding with a recommendation that selectmen terminate her employment.

Addressing the board, Mrs. Beauchemin said she made several purchases for the senior center. She said her husband transported several items, including the cabinet, to their home and everything was dumped in the garage. After several failed attempts to have her husband transport the cabinet to the senior center, compounded with her husband being diagnosed with cancer, Mrs. Beauchemin said she forgot about it.

“The cabinet was really and truly not in the forefront of our minds,” she said.

When the Beauchemins had a load of cordwood delivered to their home in November, the cabinet was discovered in the garage and eventually moved to the senior center, she said.

“Should I have called Leon at that very minute and say, ‘Hey, the cabinet was in my garage the whole time. Sorry?’” Mrs. Beauchemin said. “I didn’t. I was mortified and embarrassed but not from guilt, just by stupidity.”

Selectman Priscilla Gimas argued that termination “punishment didn’t fit the crime” and that Mr. Beauchemin’s diagnosis of having cancer contributed to Mrs. Beauchemin forgetting about a cabinet.

However, for a majority of selectmen, the matter became one of trust.

“We have a department head who had a cabinet — for whatever reason, had it too long,” Chairman of the Board of Selectman Mary Blanchard said, “And, then lied to two people about it.”

“I can’t reconcile Leon’s recollection with yours, so we’re stuck saying who’s telling the truth,” Selectman Mary Dowling said, addressing Mrs. Beauchemin. “To say that you are, we’re telling our town administrator he’s, basically, not being honest with us. And, where is the incentive for him for not being honest?”

While there was a motion in front of the board to vote on Mrs. Beauchemin’s termination, as well as an attempt for a substitute motion to place her on unpaid administrative leave for two weeks (during which time an investigation would be conducted), Mrs. Beauchemin signed her resignation papers. Her resignation took effect Wednesday.

“I just want this to be over,” Mrs. Beauchemin said.


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