NEW GLOUCESTER – Tensions ran high during Monday’s New Gloucester Board of Selectmen meeting when a couple dozen residents questioned the board’s handling of a recent restructuring of staff positions within town hall.

In response to the dispute and discussions of a possible recall, selectmen have formed a residents’ ad hoc panel to draft an ordinance for recall of public officials in New Gloucester.

Sandra Sacco, the former deputy treasurer and bookkeeper for the town, does not plan to apply for her former, full-time position, which was restored by the Board of Selectmen on Monday night, following her resignation late last month.

Following a controversial executive session held on Nov. 4, which some residents Monday night described as “illegal,” the board voted 3-2 to create a new interim finance director’s position, and to reduce the bookkeeper position from full time to part time, stripping Sacco of health benefits and much of her income. On Monday, after hearing residents’ concerns, the board voted unanimously to rescind the Nov. 4 motion, effectively scrapping the interim position, and reinstating a full-time bookkeeping position.

But Sacco, who started working for the town in April 1988, resigned on Nov. 25 in response to the reduction in hours and benefits, and so the bookkeeper position stands vacant.

“I don’t believe I will be applying for it, no,” she said.

Dispute’s origins

According to recently released minutes of the Nov. 4 meeting, Selectwoman Linda Chase motioned that effective on Jan. 2, the town would reduce the bookkeeper position from 40 hours a week to a part-time position “not to exceed 24 hours per week,” and hire an interim finance director. The motion also tasked Town Manager Sumner Field with writing job descriptions for both of the new positions.

With Field set to retire on Jan. 2, and the Nov. 4 vote rescinded, the town of New Gloucester faces a staffing shortage.

In an interview, Field said that he would be able to “support the transition” to a new town manager.

Sacco said that the changes to her position caught her off guard, and says it’s no coincidence Field was set to retire the same day the new position was to start.

“There was really no reason to reduce my hours to bring in a finance director,” Sacco said, in an interview. “Everybody felt that the finance director position would more than likely be offered to the current town manager, because he is also retiring as of Jan. 2.”

“The three leaders of the board felt that he was just great at budgeting and accounting and so forth, and they didn’t want to start a new manager off without some finance direction,” Sacco added. “That’s why we feel it was just a set-up to push me out.”

Field rejected Sacco’s allegation.

“That was not my intent,” he said. “That was not my desire. I wasn’t looking for a part-time job. My intent by giving my notice to the board is that I was going to retire effective Jan. 2. Period. End of story.”

Sacco, who is the wife of the town’s fire chief, Gary Sacco, said she was surprised to learn of the proposal.

“Why all of this has taken place is beyond me,” she said. “They never, ever consulted me or told me about this prior to that, nor did the manager ever give me any verbal or written disciplinary action prior to any of this going on.”

Field said that formal reprimands are confidential personnel matters and that he could not comment on the matter.

Selectman Josh McHenry, who voted against the Nov. 4 bookkeeper motion along with Mark Stevens, said that Field never drew up job descriptions, even though the motion directed him to do so.

“The board never offered that position to anybody, and as far as I’m aware the town manager never offered that position to anybody,” McHenry said.

At Monday’s meeting, Field said that he had completed the job descriptions, but that he had not brought them to the meeting.

At the Nov. 18 meeting, McHenry unsuccessfully motioned that Field, who is the town’s officer in charge of handling Freedom of Access Act requests, release a memo that McHenry believes spurred the executive session in the first place. McHenry said he read the memo during the Nov. 4 executive session, but is not allowed to discuss it.

Field has rejected a Lewiston newspaper’s FOAA request to see the memo. He said that the board had promised that the memo would remain confidential.

“At the time that the board was beginning their search for a new town manager they sent a notice or a memo to each employee in the town asking for their input for employee thoughts on the new town manager,” he said. “In that memo, they said please send any thoughts that you have, and it will be kept confidential. I, as an employee and the outgoing town manager, put down some thoughts and sent it to the board with the understanding that it would be confidential, per their commitment.”

Approximately 30 New Gloucester residents, including Sacco herself, attended Monday’s meeting. Many of the spectators repeatedly heckled members of the selectmen and the town manager, alleged that the Nov. 4 executive session was illegally conducted, and expressed their interest in recalling Chase, Steven Libby, and Nathaniel Berry, all of whom voted for the executive session, as well as the changes to the bookkeeper position.

Sacco said that she was not invited to the Nov. 4 executive session.

The Maine statute regarding executive sessions holds that “any person charged or investigated must be permitted to be present at an executive session if that person so desires.” It also states that executive sessions may not be held to discuss “budget or budget proposal(s).”

Many of Sacco’s supporters argued Monday night that she should have been invited to attend the executive session, and alleged that the board discussed a budget proposal – including the new interim finance director’s position and the changes to the bookkeeper position – at the executive session.

The selectmen ultimately voted unanimously to “appoint an ad hoc committee of five citizens … who do not sit on the board of selectmen” to draft an ordinance that would allow for the recall of elected officials in the town of New Gloucester.

The board also voted 3-2 to table a discussion of Sacco’s severance package.

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