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.   

The margin of votes to recall the four majority councilors was wider, ranging from 529 to recall Mailhot to 637 to oust MacDonald.   

The total number of ballots cast in Tuesday’s election was not immediately available, but Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin said the turnout was among the largest she’s seen for a June election in Old Orchard Beach.   

On Tuesday, at least three police officers were present at the polls, a larger presence than normal because of the heightened tension around the election. “I’ve never seen this type of threatening. The animosity is just extreme,” Bolduc said Tuesday as she greeted voters outside the high school gym.   

After results were posted, Bolduc said she was “stunned” to learn six councilors were recalled.    “(I’m) truly stunned that the voters would vote the way they did based on all the information that is out about the former town manager and the financial mismanagement (in town hall),” she said.   

Mailhot said she also was surprised by Tuesday’s vote, but that she has no regrets about the votes she made while serving on the council.   

Dayton, who denied allegations that she used a racial slur at a petition drive leading up to the recall vote, said it is “unfortunate we’re in this place as a town.”   

“It is unfortunate the way it happened, but the message that people need to pay attention to what’s happening in town government is loud and clear,” she said.   

Dayton, who said she was overwhelmed by the support from residents in recent weeks, said she feels positive about the election, despite her removal from office.   

“I think this is a strong message: People do not want to see business as usual,” she said. “This is the beginning of a whole new world for Old Orchard Beach.”   

Bolduc was recalled by a vote of 1,367-763; Coleman was recalled by a vote of 1,073-1,062; Dayton was recalled by a vote of 1,115-1,027; Furtado was recalled by a vote of 1,353-767; MacDonald was recalled by a vote of 1,385-748; and Mail-hot was recalled by a vote of 1,330-801. Quinn kept his seat with a vote of 814-1,315.   

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: ggraham@mainetoday.com

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