OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The turmoil in Old Orchard Beach intensified this week, with the former town manager suing the Town Council that fired him and residents pushing forward with efforts to recall all seven councilors.
In his lawsuit, former Town Manager Mark Pearson says the council violated his contract, the town charter and the state and federal constitutions by voting to terminate his contract without cause.
The 4-3 vote on March 5 to oust Pearson followed a request for his resignation and a series of crowded and tense meetings that revealed a deeply divided council.
Pearson, who started his job in February 2012, was the town’s fourth manager since 2003. The councilors who voted to terminate his contract have not publicly disclosed their reasons, prompting a residents group to start a petition drive to force a recall vote on each of the four councilors.
A second group responded with a petition drive to recall the other three councilors.
Pearson’s attorney, John Richardson, filed the lawsuit late Thursday in York County Superior Court, asking for the court to vacate the council’s decision to terminate Pearson, reinstate him to his position and award damages and attorney’s fees.
The wrongful-termination complaint is added to an earlier filing by Pearson asking the court for a declaratory judgment on who has authority to decide not to renew the contract of the public works director.
Pearson decided not to renew the contract of Bill Robertson, the public works director, but the council voted to overturn his decision.
In his new lawsuit, Pearson claims the council retaliated against him for filing the declaratory judgment action and for notifying public officials of “irregularities in the town management and finances.”
Pearson’s employment was terminated “immediately following the filing of the declaratory action,” according to the lawsuit.
“Many people in town have contacted us stating (Pearson) was well on his way to cleaning up the town when these four councilors determined he was getting too close to that goal,” Richardson said. “As a result of that, he feels he has unfinished business.”
In addition to arguing that the council did not follow due-process requirements, the lawsuit says councilors made false and defamatory statements about Pearson.
Council Chairwoman Sharri MacDonald said Friday that she had not seen the complaint and was not ready to comment. She said previously that she has been careful about what she says about Pearson so she does not damage his reputation.
The dismissal of Pearson, after months of clashes on the council, led to the first recall drive.
The first recall committee, chaired by resident David Francoeur, wants a special election on ousting MacDonald, Vice Chairwoman Laura Bolduc and Councilors Linda Mailhot and Dana Furtado. The four voted to terminate Pearson’s contract.
A second committee wants to recall Michael Coleman, Robin Dayton and Robert Quinn, the three councilors who voted against the contract termination.
Cari-Lyn Lane, who chairs the committee and operates the associated Taxpayers for Truth website, said that if four members are going to be recalled, all of the councilors should face removal so the town can move on.
The committees need at least 815 signatures on the petition for each councilor for the recall process to move forward. As the petition deadlines approach — April 11 and April 15 — the intensity of the campaigns is picking up, with accusations that both sides are spreading false information.
“It’s really sad how dirty this has gotten,” Lane said. “It’s really sad what this is bringing to the community.”
Taxpayers for Truth flyers outline the committee’s concerns about Pearson and accuse him of repeatedly violating the town charter and improperly seeking reimbursement for expenses such as coffee. Most of the material circulated by the group focuses on Pearson, rather than the three councilors the group wants to recall.
The groups says Pearson showed “blatant disregard” for council votes and mistreated the town’s staff.
“Taxpayers have had enough of these types of town managers who think they can run (roughshod) on our charter!” one Taxpayers for Truth flyer reads.
A Taxpayers for Truth flyer was inserted last week into a local weekly newspaper as if it were a paid advertisement, but Lane denies her group was behind it.
The Recall 4 campaign maintains a Facebook page and website, both of which link to video clips of council meetings and cite what the committee says are charter violations by the four-member majority.
“As we all know, Mr. Pearson repeatedly requested that the charges against him be aired and thus allow him a fair opportunity to respond. The Four, however, refused this basic fairness — a chance to face his accusers and accusations,” the Recall 4 website reads. “Instead of an airing of the charges and allowing for rebuttal, we are now inundated with flyers and newspaper ads filled with one-sided innuendo, leaving Mr. Pearson without the opportunity to respond.”
Francoeur said the committee had collected about 700 signatures as of Thursday. The committee has no plans to end the recall effort, he said.
Lane said her committee will drop the recall effort if the other group does the same. She would not say how many signatures have been collected.
Both committees will continue collecting signatures Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. at the corner of Saco Avenue and Staples Street.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: