June 13, 2013

Voters approve wave of change

Six councilors are ousted and a seventh keeps his seat as town residents seek to put months of turmoil in the past.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Six of Old Orchard Beach’s seven town councilors were removed from office Tuesday in an emotional and historic recall election that divided the town.   

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Residents make their way to the voting booths Tuesday at Old Orchard Beach High School, passing signs about councilor voting and explaining what a recall means. The signs were created by Channing Reeves, who lives in town.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Robert Quinn was the sole councilor to survive the recall votes that followed seven months of political tension over the termination of the former town manager by councilors unhappy with his job performance. This is the first time the town’s entire council faced recall.   

Councilors Sharri MacDonald, Laura Bolduc, Linda Mailhot, Dana Furtado, Michael Cole-man and Robin Dayton were removed from office.   

“I haven’t gotten my head around the whole situation,” Quinn said minutes after learning the results. “It’s such a radical change. I think the most important thing moving forward from here is that the community start to heal.”   

Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of seven months of discord in town. Recalled town councilors say the recall campaign has destroyed friendships and business relationships and cast the town in a negative light. Along with ousting the councilors, voters chose six new town councilors to replace them. The winning replacement candidates will be sworn in after the current Town Council meets one final time to certify election results.   

Roxanne Frenette, a former town councilor, will replace Bolduc. Coleman will be replaced by Kenneth Blow. Day-ton will be replaced by Jay Kelley. Furtado, who was elected last November, will be replaced by Joseph Thornton. MacDonald, who also is the state representative for Old Orchard Beach, will be replaced by former longtime Town Councilor Shawn O’Neill. Mailhot will be replaced by Malorie Pastor.   

The deep divide among council members emerged publicly in early December, when MacDonald, the council chairwoman, asked Town Manager Mark Pearson to resign. Pearson declined to leave, setting in motion a series of meetings in which Pearson was opposed by the four majority councilors – MacDonald, Bolduc, Mailhot and Furtado – and supported by the three minority councilors – Coleman, Dayton and Quinn.   

After months of tense meetings that brought dozens of residents to council chambers, Mailhot made a motion on March 5 to terminate Pearson’s contract without cause. It passed 4-3.    Pearson, who was Old Orchard Beach’s fourth town manager in 10 years, is now suing the town, claiming he was subjected to defamation, retaliation and emotional distress.   

Within days of the council vote, two rival committees were formed by residents to recall each town councilor. Tension between the two groups quickly mounted, with accusations of stolen signs and intentionally spreading misinformation on Facebook. Local police handled complaints about stalking and the alleged use of a racial slur.   

Coleman, who was recalled by the smallest margin – 11 votes – said Tuesday night that he will request a recount. Day-ton, who voted along with Coleman and Quinn to keep the former town manager, was recalled by a margin of 88 votes.   

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