NEW GLOUCESTER – The fallout from a controversial vote at the Nov. 4 New Gloucester selectmen meeting continues to unfold, with a citizens’ group collecting signatures for a proposed recall ordinance, and the town’s longtime former bookkeeper asking for her job back.

Three members of the board voted to cut bookkeeper Sandra Sacco’s hours and benefits after a Nov. 4 executive session. On Nov. 25, Sacco resigned in response. At its Dec. 2 meeting, facing public opposition amid news of Sacco’s resignation, the board voted to restore the bookkeeper position to its previous, full-time status and to form an ad hoc citizens’ committee to draft a recall ordinance.

On Dec. 26, Sacco, the wife of the town’s fire chief, Gary Sacco, re-applied for her old position, only to be turned down by Town Manager Sumner Field, who said that the application was submitted late and would not be considered.

In a December interview published in the Lakes Region Weekly, Sacco said that she would not apply for the full-time position. But during the course of the month, Sacco changed her mind.

“After thinking about it, I said, ‘My goodness, why wouldn’t I want that position?’ ” Sacco said. “Going back to the same rate of pay, vacation time, sick time, my retirement – all of it. Because they actually turned the clock back to just prior to Nov. 4, like nothing ever took place. That’s why I felt I needed to go back to them, because they took the action to reduce my hours.”

At the beginning of a Dec. 26 “emergency” selectmen’s meeting, Sacco asked for her old position back. According to draft minutes of the meeting, “The board stated that it is not its decision,” and referred Sacco to Field.

According to the draft minutes, the Dec. 26 meeting ran from 1:45 p.m. to 4:06 p.m. Sacco said that shortly after the meeting adjourned, she emailed Field a “letter of interest explaining why I had left, why I had resigned, and now that the board had reinstated the position, that I would like to have the position back.”

In an interview, Field said that he had since sent Sacco a letter explaining that the applications for the bookkeeper’s position were due at the “close of business” on Dec. 26 – meaning 4 p.m. Field said that Sacco would not be considered among the 30 or so applicants who had expressed interest in the bookkeeper position.

According to the bookkeeper job posting on the Town of New Gloucester website, the “Closing date for applications is Dec. 26, 2013.” The posting contains no statements about a “close of business” or 4 p.m. deadline.

Field declined to say when Sacco emailed the letter of interest, or what he had written in response.

Sacco said that she intended to deliver the letter of interest at the selectmen meeting on Dec. 26 – Field attended the meeting, according to the draft minutes – but that she was barred from doing so.

“I was prepared to give it to the board of selectmen,” Sacco said. “But they refused my request. So, there really wasn’t a whole lot of time in between there. Their meeting didn’t get over until after 4 p.m.”

At the same meeting, Selectman Josh McHenry moved that the town provide a severance package consisting of two weeks of pay for each of the 25 years Sacco worked at the town office. Following a discussion, McHenry amended the motion to one week of pay per year of service, but it still failed, with Nat Berry, Linda Chase and Steve Libby opposed.

According to the draft minutes, Chase then moved that Sacco receive one month of pay in a lump sum, as long as she agreed not to sue the town. The motion passed 3-2, with Chase, Berry and Libby voting in favor.

Sacco said that she has not received a copy of the proposed severance package yet, and does not know when it will arrive.

Meanwhile, despite the board’s intent to form an ad hoc citizens committee to draft a recall ordinance, a group of about 10 New Gloucester residents, inspired by the Sacco incident, are distributing voters’ petitions across town for the placement of their own “Ordinance for the Recall of Elected Officials” on an open town meeting warrant.

Under the proposed ordinance, a recall petition “shall contain a number of valid signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election in New Gloucester.” The recall ordinance would require a separate petition for each targeted elected official.

According to Steve Hathorne, who is involved in the effort, the ordinance was modeled on standing recall laws in the towns of Poland and Old Orchard Beach, among others.

Penny Hilton, who is also involved in the recall ordinance petition, said that the members of the group do not trust the selectmen to handle the recall ordinance drafting process in a forthright manner.

“Because of their behavior, because of the unending, unending difficulty and resistance that we face with those guys and the dances that they do to get what they want, we just had no faith in their process, even if they’re going to go through the motions of doing that,” Hilton said.

“They could have the committee come up with their committee’s proposal and then the selectmen could change it if they care to,” she said. “They also have no obligation to act on it at any particular speed, and since some of the selectmen know that the whole motion of a recall ordinance is aimed at them, they have no motivation to be speedy about it.”

Hilton said that the organizers of the petition all favor recalling Libby, a longtime selectman. As for other members of the board, there are differences of opinion, she said.

Although there is a consensus in the group that the Sacco episode was the “last straw,” as Hilton described it, the organizers are politically diverse.

“I think all of them would be happy if she were reinstated, but it’s not just a group of her friends gathering around her,” Hilton said. “It’s a group of voters in New Gloucester who are really fed up with the selectmen.”

At the Dec. 26 meeting, the board also voted, 3-2, to retain Field as town manager until Feb. 14. Field had announced his resignation effective Jan. 2, but the selectmen have not yet hired a new town manager. Mark Stevens and McHenry voted against the motion. McHenry had proposed that Town Planner Paul First serve as interim town manager.

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