Selectmen in Oxford, Massachusetts are considering firing the town manager after town officials said the manager failed an alcohol test late last month.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators launched a 3-month long investigation after learning of allegations that Town Manager Brian Palaia was drinking at work and then using a town car to drive. NBC10 Boston Investigators also learned of complaints of age discrimination.
The Select Board scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday morning to discuss Palaia’s future.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
The selectmen have known about Town Manager Brian Palaia’s drinking for months, and met once in a closed session last November to discuss the issue with Palaia.
Full minutes of the executive session, obtained by the NBC10 Boston Investigators, detail the meeting in which the selectmen laid out their concerns that Palaia was drinking on the job and driving a town-owned car while intoxicated.
Palaia has been on paid administrative leave for more than a week since the test.
Neither the selectmen nor Palaia would comment to NBC10 Boston.
In the minutes, the selectmen confronted Palaia directly about drinking on the job.
“The Chairman has a problem with the Manager drinking on the job and driving a municipal vehicle after drinking,” according to the minutes.
The Select Board Chairman, Dennis Lamarche, met twice with Palaia prior to the November meeting, according to the minutes.
On Oct. 10, 2017, Palaia told Lamarche “he had a problem with alcohol.”
Selectman Cheryll LeBlanc asked Palaia “if his drinking problem has impacted his job or the employees of the Town." He said that he didn’t know, according to the minutes.
Palaia told the selectmen he had entered an outpatient treatment program and had been sober for 30 days.
The selectmen were skeptical, however.
Two selectmen said they had spoken with “many employees” and did “not believe that the Manager has been sober for thirty (30) days,” according to the minutes.
Calling the drinking “dramatic” and a “trust issue,” the selectmen suggested having Police Chief Anthony Saad “pop in” to Town Hall to conduct surprise breathalyzer tests, but the selectmen and Palaia agreed random screenings at a clinic would be preferable.
“You are our leader, Brian. You lead us,” the minutes quote LeBlanc as saying. “You lead the town. God forbid that you’re not there… What does that say for our Town, if you’re unable to perform your duties?”
Selectmen feared liability, and a major controversy in the small town if word got out about the drinking habits of a leading town official.
“Sooner or later it’s going to catch up with you and sooner or later all the employees that don’t know about it now are going to know about it,” the minutes quoted Selectman John Saad as saying. “I would say that a majority do. Then, it leaks out into the community and it becomes a town-wide problem.”
The meeting resolved with Palaia agreeing to sign a memorandum of understanding, laying out the conditions for random unscheduled alcohol tests and warning Palaia that any failed test, or any resistance to submitting to a test, could result in his termination.
Saad told the selectmen at the end of the closed session that Palaia agreed to use his own personal car, rather than the town car granted in his contract.
However, the NBC10 Boston Investigators surveilled Palaia in February and March, and found he was driving a town vehicle with municipal plates. Other town records confirm the town owns the car he was driving during work and home from work.
It is unclear when he was allowed to use the car again.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators discovered one documented accident in the town car, at Pine Ridge Country Club in May of 2015.
The oxford police report describes it as a “dinner and drink party.”
Palaia claimed he walked out of the clubhouse and found his town car found hanging on a stone wall that separates the top and bottom parking lots.
In the police report, Palaia first said he believed his car was broken into, that someone moved it, and he found it in park on the wall.
But he later changed his story, saying nothing was taken and he found the car in neutral.
The Oxford police officer who responded concluded in his report, “I do not believe the vehicle was broken into and attempted to be stolen.”
He continued, “It was unable to be shifted out of gear without keys.”
The Pine Ridge manager told police Palaia had his keys all night.
On March 29, 2018, at 2:30 in the afternoon, Selectman Meaghan Troiano arrived to Town Hall to escort Palaia to a clinic for a surprise, random alcohol test.
Town sources confirm he failed.
A town employee took the vehicle Palaia had been driving on March 30.