The suicide of a West Goshen municipal worker amid allegations of abuse at the hands of his manager has led to a lawsuit by his widow and calls for township leaders to resign.
John “Dave” Woodward Jr., 53, was found dead this summer, along with a note reading, “I can’t take any more of this waiting around to be fired from a job that was my life.”
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of J. David Woodward, a friend and valuable employee of West Goshen Township. He is survived by his wife and their daughter. Please keep the Woodward family in your thoughts and prayers,” the West Goshen Republican Committee said in a statement.
“The alleged events leading to Mr. Woodward’s suicide in July 2023…are shocking and raise serious questions about how the West Goshen Township is being managed.”
Woodward’s widow, Doreen Woodward, has filed a lawsuit against West Goshen Township Manager Christopher Bashore, the township, and the Board of Supervisors. She said her husband was mistreated by Bashore, who threatened him with jail and suspended him without pay.
Bashore, hired in January 2022, also suspended Dorine McClune, superintendent of the parks department, Mark Bertolami, superintendent of the roads department, and Michael Moffa, sewer department superintendent, on July 20.
The issue at the center of the Woodward case is the township’s long-standing practice of crediting employees with “snow time” or “squirrel time” for hours they worked plowing snow or doing other jobs while the township offices were officially closed for inclement weather, the lawsuit said.
The four superintendents would track employees’ hours and give them credit for time off at a later date. According to the lawsuit, the policy began under the previous township manager, Casey LaLone. A prior member of the board of supervisors, now deceased, also signed off on it, the suit said.
The four superintendents told Bashore that “snow time” or “squirrel time” was used to fairly compensate public works employees who were required to work while the administrative offices were closed. Administrative employees received their salaries for those days but did not come to work.
In addition to shouting at the four employees and telling them they could go to jail, Bashore mentioned Kennett Township’s former manager was jailed for stealing from that township for the same conduct, the lawsuit said.
Bashore suspended the employees “prior to any investigation.”
He told the four superintendents verbally and in writing they were not allowed to speak to each other during the investigation. The supervisors hired a law firm to investigate the matter. All four superintendents were called in and interviewed by the township’s lawyers without compensation. They all feared they would lose their jobs for conduct that began under the previous township manager.
The four “endured emotional duress,” the lawsuit said.
Then, in September, Bashore called the remaining superintendents in and gave them a letter saying the past and present supervisors never authorized the “snow time” or “squirrel time.”
However, the suit claimed the supervisors knew the truth about the practice and that the late Supervisor Raymond Halvorsen, with the former manager, had put the policy in place. The approximately 30 employees who received the “snow time” were never required to repay the township, and none were sanctioned.
On July 30, two days after Woodward’s body and note were found, Supervisors Chairman Shaun Walsh called the remaining superintendents in and told them to report for work the next morning. Between that day and Sept. 7, the suit said they were not given any additional information about the investigation.
Woodward, a Kennett Square resident, graduated from West Chester High School. He enjoyed family trips, attending his 17-year-old daughter’s marching band and other school events, relaxing in his backyard, watching Phillies and Flyers games and NASCAR races, and riding bikes on the boardwalks in Delaware and Maryland, his obituary said. He also enjoyed grilling on his deck, landscaping and tending his vegetable garden, listening to Frank Sinatra, and spending time with his family.
“Dave was a man of great integrity with a quiet but kind soul who would give you the shirt off his back if needed,” his obituary stated.
“As a direct and legal result” of the supervisors’ and Bashore’s actions, Woodward took his own life, the suit said.
Reached by phone, Bashore declined to comment “on pending litigation.” Walsh did not respond to requests for comment. Lawyer Frances Miller, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Doreen Woodward and Woodward’s estate, could not be reached for comment.
However, the West Goshen Republican Committee issued a statement calling for the resignation of the supervisors and Bashore.
“Actions by the township manager and supervisors leading to Mr. Woodward’s suicide involved interrogation by a hired labor law expert, vehement and angry accusations, suspension without pay, and threats of imprisonment against several department heads within the township. All of this was done because township employees acted in compliance with a long-standing policy for overtime pay. That policy had been in place for over 10 years.”
The defendants “are those responsible for making financial, personnel, and policy decisions within the township. Now, they will be deciding whether to spend West Goshen taxpayer’s money for their own defense.
“This tragic turn of events clearly demonstrates poor leadership, poor management practices, and a callous disregard for consequences. While the community can voice its displeasure regarding the events that have transpired by electing two new board members in November, the others involved will remain, continuing to make more disastrous decisions.
“As a result, the West Goshen Republican Committee hereby calls for the resignation of all five West Goshen Township supervisors and the township manager.”
The suit, filed Oct. 19 in Chester County Court of Common Pleas, demands damages and court costs.