The Cohasset, Mass., town manager says his objections to a request for proposals for a water service contract triggered his suspension by the board of selectmen, which wants to fire him.

His critics, however, say that’s a smokescreen.

The selectmen in this suburb, 20 miles southeast of Boston, voted last Wednesday to suspend Michael Coughlin with pay, citing communications differences. A public hearing on a resolution to fire him is scheduled for March 13, after which the selectmen will take a final vote.

Coughlin, Cohasset’s town manager since Aug. 1 at a $115,000 salary, has filed objections to a 20-year water concession with the Massachusetts Inspector General’s Office and Ethics Commission, saying he and town staff have been hindered in their attempts to oversee the proposal, and that some conflicts of interest may exist.

“Efforts to exercise my authority as chief procurement officer have been compromised,” Coughlin said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Cohasset’s Board of Water Commissioners said the RFP will still proceed. “We’re placing an advertisement for publication on Wednesday and it will go out onto the street the following Tuesday,” Peter DeCaprio said in an interview.

“Essentially, our town manager is incompetent,” added DeCaprio, who said Coughlin, previously the town administrator in Westport, “is presenting a straw-man argument to prevent his firing. He’s setting himself up for whistle-blower protection in the lawsuit that we know is coming. It doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.”

Messages seeking comment were left with Coughlin and his attorney, Douglas Louison of Boston firm Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff LLP.

Coughlin questioned the water commission’s ties to a potential bidder, Aquarion Water Co. of Monroe, Conn. Aquarion now serves North Cohasset, or 10% of the town’s population. American Water Works Co. of Vorhees, N.J., serves the rest of the town. That contract is set to expire June 30.

Aquarion’s owner, Macquarie Bank of Australia, once invested $15 million in DeCaprio’s Scituate, Mass., hedge fund, Crow Point Partners LLC.

“I derived no income from the Macquarie investment when that fund was open. None,” DeCaprio said. “It was in our formation documents that we were to earn no income from that fund. In fact, we paid that seed fund a portion of our profits from other businesses, so that fund was actually a drain on our corporate cash. The fund that Macquarie invested in closed in 2009, 18 months before I was even on the commission.”

DeCaprio also said Macquarie “was one of potentially 99 other investors,” adding: “I never knew what portion they were of the $15 million. I assume they were less than 10%.”

Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s rate the town’s general obligation bonds Aa1 and AA-plus, respectively.

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