Old Orchard Beach town councilors hired a Rockland man Tuesday as interim town manager to replace Mark Pearson, who is due to leave after being fired earlier this month.

Robert Peabody Jr. was hired during a special Town Council meeting. Sharri MacDonald, chairwoman of the council, said the vote was 5-2.

Peabody, a former town manager of Rockport, will be paid $1,500 a week. MacDonald said he will start Wednesday.

“He is going to hit the ground running,” MacDonald said in a phone interview just minutes after the vote.

Old Orchard Beach has been operating without a town manager since councilors voted 4-3 on March 5 to terminate Pearson’s contract.

Pearson, who became town manager in February of 2012, is on administrative leave until his contract expires April 3.

MacDonald said Peabody’s biggest challenge will be developing a 2013-14 municipal budget and negotiating new contracts with the town’s unions. The budget proposal is due March 31.

“I am going to assume my department heads are well along in the budgeting process,” Peabody said Tuesday night.

Peabody said he plans to commute from Rockland to Old Orchard Beach, a resort town he has visited since he was a child. “I am really excited about this opportunity,” he said.

Councilors Michael Coleman and Robin Dayton were the only councilors to oppose Peabody’s appointment.

Coleman said he felt the council rushed into hiring Peabody too soon after terminating Pearson’s contract.

He said he also has questions about Peabody’s departure from Rockport.

“Really, what we ought to be doing is bringing Mark (Pearson) back, but I realize that is not going to happen with this majority,” Coleman said. “I will work with (Peabody) because he was named the town manager by a majority of the council. I have to respect that.”

Peabody, who became Rockport’s town manager in 2004, said he left the position effective Feb. 14 after signing a severance agreement with the town that paid him more than $52,000. The money included 12 weeks of pay in addition to unused sick leave and vacation time.

Peabody would not discuss specifics of the agreement, though a story published last month in The Camden Herald said his departure was linked to an undisclosed personnel issue.

Peabody said he served three terms as a city councilor in Rockland. During those nine years, he was elected mayor three times.

MacDonald said town councilors have not decided on a process for permanently replacing Pearson, whose attorney, John Richardson, has threatened to sue the town. She said Pearson’s annual salary exceeded $96,000.

“We needed someone who can bring us back together and (Peabody) could be the one. He’s very open and willing to answer the tough questions. When we called his former employees in Rockport, they gave him glowing reviews,” she said.

 

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com