OLD ORCHARD BEACH – A group of residents Tuesday launched a recall effort against the four town councilors who voted to terminate the town manager’s contract.

Also Tuesday, councilors took a step toward consensus when they voted to go into executive session to discuss the qualifications of and terms for an interim town manager, who they all agree needs to be appointed soon. It was the first time the council has met behind closed doors since controversy over former Town Manager Mark Pearson erupted in early December.

During the emergency Town Council meeting, the council appointed Finance Director Diana Asanza as administrative officer to authorize payroll and vendor payments temporarily. Pearson is on administrative leave until his contract ends April 3.

Council Chairwoman Sharri MacDonald said the council will accept applications of people interested in the interim position until 4 p.m. Monday. Councilors expect to appoint an interim manager March 21 after interviewing candidates.

“It is very difficult for anyone to take on a position after the turmoil that is left behind,” said George Kerr, a former state legislator and town councilor who offered to serve as interim town manager. “I haven’t lost faith in this community and, frankly, I haven’t lost faith in you.”

Other people already being considered for the position include Domenic Pugliares, owner of the Dunegrass Country Club, and Reza Namin, former Westbrook school superintendent.

Hours before the emergency meeting, a committee of seven residents headed by David Francoeur took out official petitions to collect signatures of residents who want to hold a recall election to remove four councilors who “voted to terminate a good manager without giving any reason,” according to committee members.

The group is seeking to recall MacDonald, Vice Chairwoman Laura Bolduc, Dana Furtado and Linda Mailhot. The councilors, who form the majority of the seven-member panel, voted March 5 to terminate Mark Pearson’s contract without cause.

“It’s a sad day,” Francoeur said after submitting a written request for recall petition forms. “It’s time to take our town back for everybody.”

Other members of the recall committee are Anne Langlois, John Girard, James Duclos, Tom Gillis, Marc Guimont and Phil Follansbee.

The members described themselves as a “group of regular folks, a true cross-section of Old Orchard Beach.”

“We are fed up with the reckless behavior of the majority of our town council,” the committee said in a prepared statement. “We have decided to start these recalls to bring stability back to our town government.”

In the statement, committee members said they do not want elected officials to represent “hidden agendas,” fire a town manager without cause or “work secretly behind closed doors.”

Francoeur said the committee wants to see Pearson back to work in Old Orchard Beach and avoid costing the town more money in legal expenses. Pearson’s attorney, John Richardson, said last week that Pearson will file a lawsuit against the town if the council does not rescind its decision.

Mailhot said Tuesday was a sad day for Old Orchard Beach.

“It disheartens me that a group of citizens and fellow councilors would feel that I don’t have the best interest of my hometown at heart,” she said in an email. “The toughest decisions are often not the easiest decisions to have to make. It is difficult to get qualified people to run for office and this is one example of why so many people choose not to run.”

Mailhot said she had to make “the best decision for the residents, myself included” when the situation with Pearson arose.

“It was not an easy decision to make,” she said. “I can only ask that when the town attorney authorizes us to release information to the residents and they are given an opportunity to review that information, that they will have any open mind and be able to have an understanding as to why I voted the way I did.”

MacDonald, Bolduc and Furtado did not respond to requests for comment about the recall.

The recall committee now has 30 days to collect 815 signatures of registered voters on separate petitions for each town councilor. If those signatures are certified by the town clerk, the Town Council has 45 days to schedule a recall vote. Councilors can then be removed from office with a simple majority.

If the committee fails to collect enough signatures, the process ends and a new petition cannot be started for 180 days.

Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin said the only other recall attempt in Old Orchard Beach was in 1990. The attempt to recall Town Councilors Norma Baker and F. William Schlatterer failed.

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

[email protected]