I-Team: Selectmen take up complaints against building official

Normally, there's plenty of seating at an average Freetown Board of Selectmen meeting.

On Monday night, it was standing room only, and it wasn't water tables or snow budgets that brought them in.

The focus was the man sitting in the front row, building commissioner and health agent Paul Bourgeois, and the complaints against him that sparked an I-Team investigation.

"I think the evidence is mounting, people are coming out of the woodwork," said Richard Padelford, a Freetown business owner.

Pat Davidson is one of them. She opened a Subway franchise some years ago and, like many business owners and residents in town, said Bourgeois bullied her.

"What should have been a great day for me, I was very upset and I'll never forget it, and that's why I'm here," said Davidson.

At least two people in the crowd of 60 expressed support for the building inspector. When approached by the I-Team, a woman said she would rather not comment publicly.

Bourgeois has declined to comment when approached by the I-Team on two occasions, instead saying he would rather find a fair reporter.

Residents in town say the building official is too close to those he's paid to supervise. The I-Team found public records showing Bourgeois buying and selling real estate over the years, dozens of properties.

In one case, Bourgeois made a $160,000 profit with his partner after flipping a piece of land bought from the wife of Freetown builder Robert Viana. The I-Team found permits that showed the building official had continued to issue Viana permits on future projects.

"Was this done on town time, the transactions for the properties? And if it was done, he should be docked that amount and pay it back to the town," said resident Joe Montour.

Rhode Island developer Michael Kent stood in the back of the meeting. He's trying to build a 12 home subdivision in town, but said Bourgeois resisted his efforts from the beginning and alleges the building inspector threw his permit applications in the trash.

Kent told the I-Team that Bourgeois shows favoritism to his cronies and has a different set of standards for others.

"There's dozens, literally dozens of people wanting to make the same statements," said Kent.

Kent has sued Freetown and Bourgeois. The legal tab totals about $45,000.

"Now, if we're going to spend $45,000, don't you think the finance committee and everybody else has a right to know where that money is going?" said Lee Baumgartner, who is a candidate for selectman on April 1.

The Board of Selectmen and Bourgeois went into executive session, which is held behind closed doors, to discuss the complaints against the building inspector.

They never came back into an open meeting.