FALMOUTH — After three-and-a-half years as town planner, Thomas Bott is stepping down effective today, and exchanging fire with Town Manager Julian Suso on the way out the door.
In a letter dated Nov. 10, which the Times obtained through a public records request after town officials refused to release it, Bott accuses Suso, Assistant Town Manager Peter Johnson-Staub and Director of Personnel Denise Coleman of taking actions that made it difficult to speak his mind without fear of retribution.
Those actions “in my opinion threatened my tenure and thus my livelihood. It is an untenable circumstance that has led to much worry and lost sleep, it’s not healthy,” Bott wrote.
He wrote that an important part of the town planner’s position is being independent and being able to “speak truth to power,” especially when local developers and nonprofits have complaints against town employees.
Bott said that he sent a memo to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which was to be available for a May 13 ZBA meeting. He claims that because of actions taken by Suso and Johnson-Staub that memo was removed from the town’s website.
“In my two plus decades in Massachusetts, I have never seen a public official try to reach into and change public record,” Bott wrote in his resignation letter.
In a response to that charge, Suso, in a Nov. 15 document posted to the town website, said Bott’s memo to the ZBA was taken off the town website because it contained outdated information that had the potential to mislead the ZBA.
“Mr. Bott was advised in advance that the original, outdated Memorandum would be removed from the record so as to not confuse or mislead the Zoning Board of Appeals and he expressed no opposition at that time,” Suso wrote in that document.
Bott also accused Suso of refusing to support Bott’s recommendations for Planning Department staff, which led to a monthslong delay in filling the job of assistant town planner as well as a lost opportunity to diversify the staff. The job of assistant town planner was filled in July by Jed Cornock.
Responding to Bott’s charge, Suso rejected the idea that he was not willing to interview a minority candidate for assistant town planner.
Suso said that he was not involved in the initial interview process for the position, and that a candidate was chosen for an interview. However, the candidate did not show up for the interview or let staff know that he would not be attending.
“Based upon this consistent unprofessional response, Ms. Coleman (the director of personnel) appropriately determined that this candidate should be passed. I agree with this decision,” Suso wrote.
In his resignation letter, Bott said he sensed trouble six months into his job as Falmouth planner when Suso decided to extend his probationary period by four months. That decision came after Bott spoke at a Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee meeting about the process for the Complete Streets program. He said his comments annoyed Raymond Jack, the previous Department of Public Works director.
Bott attempted to set up a one-on-one meeting with Suso to discuss Bott’s concerns.
Bott said that in the Zoom teleconferencing meeting that was held, he asked whether management wanted him to continue as town planner, to which he received an ambiguous response.
He said he tried to resolve issues with Suso on multiple occasions.
The job of town planner is posted on the town’s website, with a yearly salary ranging from $82,118 to $107,182.