March 6, 2013

Council votes to fire Old Orchard town manager

Town Councilor Linda Mailhot makes a motion to terminate Mark Pearson's contract as of April 3.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – A split Town Council voted Tuesday to terminate the contract of Town Manager Mark Pearson. Before the vote, they debated for hours as residents and town employees alternately defended the manager and cheered the councilors who want to fire him.

Councilors Linda Mailhot, Dana Furtado, Laura Bolduc and Sharri MacDonald voted to terminate the contract. Councilors Michael Coleman, Robin Dayton and Robert Quinn voted against the termination.

In December, Pearson was asked by MacDonald, the council chairwoman, to resign. That touched off heated debates and revealed tension between the manager and a deeply divided Town Council.

Pearson, who started his job in February 2012, is the town's fourth manager since 2003.

Mailhot made the motion to terminate his contract effective April 3, "given the fact the town manager filed a lawsuit against the town."

Pearson filed a request in York County Superior Court this week seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the council's authority to override Pearson's decision not to renew the contract of Public Works Director Bill Robertson.

The council voted two weeks ago to rescind the letter notifying Robertson of Pearson's decision not to renew the contract – a decision that Pearson's attorney said the council does not have the authority to make.

In the complaint, Pearson cites the town charter, which says the town manager is the chief executive and administrative officer so Town Council confirmation is not required for the non-renewal of an employee's contract.

Pearson asked the court for a declaration "that under the town charter the plaintiff has the sole authority to make the decision not to renew an employee contract."

The agenda for Tuesday's meeting included an executive session to discuss "personnel matters" related to the town manager.

Before the vote on the executive session, Pearson presented MacDonald with a written request that any discussion of his job be held in public.

The closed session did not occur because three councilors voted against it. Five votes are needed to move into executive session.

Mailhot then made a motion to allow councilors to notify Pearson of their intention to terminate his contract for no cause effective April 3 and have him take paid leave with full benefits for the next month.

Mailhot, who said she was "dismayed and disheartened" by the council's rejection of the executive session, said she would not publicly discuss personnel issues related to Pearson.

Councilors Coleman, Quinn and Dayton questioned whether it was legal to consider a motion that wasn't on the agenda.

Dayton repeatedly asked fellow councilors for the reason behind the move to oust Pearson, only to be met by "stone silence."

Town attorney Rob Crawford said he believed it was appropriate for the council to consider the motion and to allow public comment on the issue.

Before deciding to allow public comment, the council voted 4-3 to move for a vote without public comment.

During the public comment session, opinions were split on Pearson's employment.

The town attorney read the council rules about public participation after comments were yelled from the audience.

One man stood near the council holding a sign that read "Recall 4," referring to councilors MacDonald, Mailhot, Bolduc and Furtado.

Neal Weinstein, a town resident and the attorney who represents Robertson, questioned Pearson's loyalty to Old Orchard Beach because he doesn't live in town and ran for a school board position in New Hampshire.

Kathy Smith, a town employee in the codes department, spoke in defense of the town manager, whom she called "great" for Old Orchard Beach.

She said she is tired of the ongoing debate about Pearson.

"I'm sick of it. I'm disgusted," she said. "It's got to stop."

 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

 

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