December 8, 2012

OOB councilors will discuss ending contract of manager

Mark Pearson asks that Wednesday's special meeting be open to the public and videotaped.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Old Orchard Beach Town Council Chairwoman Sharri MacDonald has called a special meeting of the seven-member council for 7 p.m. Wednesday to discuss behind closed doors whether to terminate or continue Town Manager Mark Pearson's contract.

Pearson has asked that the session be open to the public and be videotaped. He has also requested the presence of the town auditor, human resource officer, interim finance director, accounts payable clerk and town finance director.

Pearson said MacDonald asked him Friday to resign but did not specify the reason.

"She said, 'as a professional courtesy we would allow you to resign,' " said Pearson.

MacDonald denied that she asked Pearson to resign, saying she wants to discuss a "litany of issues" about his job performance raised by other members of the council. She declined to provide any specific information about the issues other than to say there is no fraud involved but certain councilors have questioned whether he is a good fit for the community.

"It is flabbergasting to me. The meeting is being spun out of control," said MacDonald.

Old Orchard Beach, a community whose population of 8,600 swells to tens of thousands during the summer tourist season, has had a revolving-door policy when it comes to town managers. The town, which has a municipal and school budget of about $26 million, has had four different managers in five years.

Earlier this year, residents were shocked when it was discovered the late town library bookkeeper Linda Jenkins embezzled $140,000 over a six-year period. The embezzlement was blamed on lack of oversight, according to investigators.

The latest issue has triggered an email campaign by some residents who are calling on the council to keep the Dec. 12 meeting open.

"We are asking for facts and to be part of this decision process," said Pat Brown, a town resident.

Brown said the town would be liable for the town manager's remaining salary and legal costs if he were wrongly terminated.

Maine law allows town employees to request an open session to discuss complaints, allegations of misconduct or charges against them.

MacDonald said she needs to consult the town's lawyers before honoring Pearson's request.

"I would not want to hurt anyone's career," said MacDonald.

Pearson was hired in February and signed a two-year contract in August. A former assistant town manager in Hudson, N.H., Pearson said he remains baffled by the call for his resignation after working hard to put the town's finances in order.

"I am an open book. I treat everyone fairly and consistently and follow the town charter, state and federal law," he said.

Town Councilor Michael Coleman, who called Pearson's job performance terrific, said he believes the calls for his resignation are politically motivated. He said Pearson ruffled some feathers when he started to address shoddy management practices in Town Hall, tried to reduce the town's $1.8 million in delinquent taxes, got rid of inconsistent personnel policies and gave the green light to a special law enforcement team to curb illegal narcotics trafficking in town.

Coleman said he suspects Pearson's detractors are also blaming him for a pending town auditor's report that found irregularities in the town's accounting practices, even though he was on the job for only five months of the yearlong auditing period.

He said Pearson had a vote of confidence from the previous five-member town council when it signed the contract that gave him a $96,000 yearly salary and $5,000 annually in lieu of health insurance. That council was replaced in November by the seven-member council, three of whom are first-time members.

There has been no council discussion about the town manager's performance since then, said Coleman.

Coleman said MacDonald left a voice message on his phone Friday, saying she and three other councilors decided to ask for the town manager's resignation.

Councilor Bob Quinn also defended Pearson, saying Pearson has performed his duties to Quinn's satisfaction.

"The action (MacDonald) has taken was done without a meeting of the full town council. That action does not meet the requirements of the town charter, reflects badly on the council, and is disrespectful to Mr. Pearson," said Quinn in an email.

The other four councilors did not return telephone messages Saturday.

Assistant Town Manager Louise Reid said she does not know any details of complaints about the town manager.

"I totally and completely support the town manager 100 percent," said Reid.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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