December 19, 2012

Talk of raises for Old Orchard employees sparks flare-up

The town manager indirectly addresses turmoil surrounding a push to oust him last week.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Tempers flared Tuesday as the Town Council discussed newly implemented performance evaluations and merit-based pay for nonunion municipal employees -- subjects raised by councilors critical of Town Manager Mark Pearson.

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Sharri MacDonald

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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Mark Pearson, Old Orchard Beach town manager.

Council Chairwoman Sharri MacDonald asked Pearson to resign earlier this month, but the effort to oust Pearson failed last week at a meeting that attracted a standing room-only crowd of Pearson supporters.

On Tuesday, Pearson addressed the turmoil indirectly as he provided background to councilors on the merit pay item on the agenda. He said it was clear to him that the previous council wanted him to establish a merit-based system by Jan. 1 and that he believed there was consensus about it on the current council. He said that he will ask for clearer direction.

"In the future," Pearson said. "I will just ask, 'Can we have a vote?' "

Pearson said that about half the nonunion employees had been evaluated and given raises but that the remainder had not.

The hour-long discussion was testy, with councilors and audience members speaking over each other and disputing one another's assertions. The disagreements included the history of merit raises in town, what votes had taken place in the past, whether the raises needed councilors' approval and whether the matter should be put off to allow more time for review of a draft policy that was provided to councilors Tuesday evening.

"It's rather apparent that this is an attempt to micromanage the manager. It's nothing more than that," Councilor Michael Coleman said.

Councilor Dana Furtado raised concerns about allocating money for raises, saying all the evaluations should be performed before any raises are given out. Otherwise, he said, there was the risk that the money might run out and that some deserving employees wouldn't get their raises.

"I don't agree with the way it was done currently," he said.

A police officer was assigned to staff the meeting because the previous one had been so rowdy. Tuesday's meeting concluded without incident.

With one member absent, the council deadlocked 3-3 twice on whether they should table the matter. A third vote to approve the draft policy Pearson had put forward also failed.

After the meeting, Pearson said he was not clear what the final vote meant.

"That's the difficult thing," he said. "Give me a concrete direction."

Pearson said he would have department heads move forward with the remaining evaluations but would not implement them before councilors approved them.

It wasn't clear whether MacDonald was still seeking Pearson's resignation.

"I don't have any comment on that," she said after the meeting.

She had previously raised concerns about town finances. The auditor who uncovered the problems has since said they were not the fault of Pearson, who was hired in February.

Pearson said the resignation request hasn't been repeated -- or retracted -- since the last meeting.

"It's kind of dangling," he said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

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