OLD ORCHARD BEACH – A standing room-only crowd of residents loudly voiced support for Town Manager Mark Pearson on Wednesday night in response to some councilors’ request that Pearson resign.

More than 80 residents and town employees alternately cheered and booed councilors as they discussed whether to meet privately for legal advice about Pearson’s contract.

Council Chairwoman Sharri MacDonald asked Pearson to resign last week, for undisclosed reasons.

Wednesday’s council meeting was unruly at times, with shouts from the audience demanding that MacDonald resign.

MacDonald had scheduled a closed-door meeting to discuss with the town attorney the council’s rights regarding the town manager’s contract. But that meeting never happened.

Councilors Michael Coleman, Robert Quinn and Robin Dayton, who support Pearson, opposed meeting in executive session.

It’s unclear whether the council will meet in the future to discuss ending Pearson’s contract.

MacDonald declined comment after the three-hour public meeting, except to say that any future consideration of Pearson’s contract would be at the will of the council.

Instead of meeting privately Wednesday, the council heard more than 2½ hours of comments from residents, many of whom expressed dismay and outrage that MacDonald had asked Pearson to resign with no public explanation.

MacDonald said one of her concerns involves an allegation against Pearson by a town employee, but she would not disclose which employee or the nature of the issue. Pearson said he had no idea what MacDonald was referencing.

Coleman questioned why MacDonald would ask Pearson to resign without first speaking with the entire council.

“Folks, this doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said. “I’m disgusted by the conduct here.”

Councilors who don’t support Pearson didn’t outline all of their concerns, but alluded to issues that came up in a preliminary report on the town’s annual audit.

The audit, which is not complete, said the town’s primary checking account was not reconciled in 2012 and there were errors in calculating the fiscal 2012 tax commitment, among other issues.

The auditing firm, RHR Smith & Co., recommended adding internal controls, which Pearson said he has done and will continue to do.

Pearson, who was hired in February, is the town’s fourth manager since 2003. In August, the council approved a two-year contract that pays him a $96,000 annual salary and $5,000 a year in lieu of health insurance.

On Dec. 7, MacDonald asked Pearson to resign, citing concerns from multiple councilors. Pearson refused to step down and requested that any discussion about his job performance be held in public.

“We have nothing to hide,” said John Richardson, Pearson’s attorney, who said councilors with concerns should speak directly to Pearson.

Emails provided to the Portland Press Herald in response to a public information request show that councilors have corresponded about a meeting regarding Pearson since at least late November.

In an email to councilors on Nov. 26, MacDonald asked each one to submit expectations for the town manager position, so they could be compiled into a list to be discussed, modified and voted on Dec. 4.

The meeting Dec. 4 did not include an agenda item related to expectations for the town manager.

In her email to councilors, MacDonald cited a town charter requirement that the council compile and provide to the town manager a list of expectations when the manager is hired and every year thereafter.

Coleman said that requirement is in the charter approved after Pearson was hired, so it does not apply to him.

In an email to councilors Dec. 6, Coleman said any discussion of expectations should be held in public.

“It is no secret that (MacDonald) has been quite critical of the town manager’s tenure here in Old Orchard Beach. This fact alone makes it imperative that we conduct these proceedings with as much transparency as possible, which includes having them televised for the entire town to view,” Coleman wrote.

During Wednesday’s meeting, much of the discussion centered on the preliminary findings of the audit — which had not previously been made public — and why councilors would try to push Pearson out.

Dayton, a longtime councilor, said the council should let auditors finish their work before judging Pearson.

“Jumping the gun like this makes us all look bad,” she said. “We’re in a financial mess. To blame it and lay it at the feet of a town manager who has been here less than a year is outrageous.”

Residents went to the podium to express support for Pearson.

Chris Johnson questioned why MacDonald would ask Pearson to resign before having a discussion with the entire council.

“It was never a decision, and yet this man has been deprecated in the newspapers, on Facebook,” he said. “You’re guilty of pride, of arrogance.”

Resident Phil Dennison called on the council to schedule another meeting to air concerns about Pearson’s performance.

“This whole thing has gotten way out of control,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]