The Ogunquit Select Board accepted Thomas Fortier’s resignation as town manager Tuesday night, ending months of closed-door meetings that exacerbated tensions with residents over a lack of transparency and communication from town officials.

The Select Board voted 4-0, with one member recused, to approve the terms of Fortier’s resignation during a raucous meeting that at one point devolved into a shouting match between Select Board members.

In return for his resignation, Fortier will continue to receive his $125,000 annual salary and benefits through June 30, the end of the fiscal year, unless he is convicted before then of the misdemeanor theft charges pending against him. Town residents will vote in June on whether to extend Fortier’s payments through Aug. 4. Fortier, 52, did not appear at the public meeting or the board’s executive session that preceded it.

“The agreement includes a full release of all claims which Mr. Fortier could have brought against the town or persons associated with the town,” Select Board Chairwoman Barbara Dailey said, reading aloud from a prepared statement. “The Select Board accepted Mr. Fortier’s resignation because it brings finality to this matter and allows us to recruit and hire a new town manager.”

Despite a building snowstorm, about 25 residents filed into Ogunquit’s Town Hhall to hear the board’s decision. One resident, Benjamin Hershenson, 77, said he traveled from his winter home in Bonita Springs, Florida, to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Hershenson bemoaned the tenor of the debate around Fortier’s case and worried that resident requests for a search committee to find a new town manager undermined Fortier’s rights.

“I can be a cantankerous old man, especially at my age, but even I see there’s got to be a limit.” Hershenson said. “Everybody deserves due process.”

ATTACKS AND REBUKES

Other residents expressed dissatisfaction with the Select Board’s decision, saying the board should have stood up to Fortier.

“He should be fired now. Why are we paying him? It’s ridiculous,” Craig Thiede said.

During the meeting, Select Board members lashed out at the public and one another. Board member John Daley referred to organizers of a petition targeting Fortier and Dailey as “cowards” who did not have the “best interests of the town” in mind. Robert Winn, who was recused throughout the Fortier employment inquiry, accused his fellow board members of lying, prompting a sharp warning from Selectman Rick Dolliver.

Dailey, who was absent at the last Select Board meeting, took the opportunity to again deny the existence of a written report that identified Fortier as a prime suspect in a 2012 theft of $10,200 from a Town Hall safe, as alleged by a former Select Board member.

“There was no written report ever developed. It’s not missing. It was not redacted or altered. It doesn’t exist,” Dailey said. “The presentation was entirely verbal.”

Dailey defended the board’s handling of Fortier’s case, pointing out that it was required by town charter to continue paying Fortier after he requested to be put on administrative leave. Fortier has been on leave since being charged in August with misdemeanor theft by unauthorized taking and official oppression over his alleged role in the operation of an after-hours parking lot on town property.

Police claim Fortier used teenage town workers who played on his baseball team to collect $400 in parking fees from visitors to Ogunquit on the Fourth of July, and pocketed the money instead of turning it over to the town. Fortier denies the allegations.

Fortier’s case, which has cost taxpayers nearly $26,000 in legal fees this fiscal year, left town residents deeply divided, with critics delivering petitions and holding no-confidence votes while supporters held invitation-only meetings and questioned the objectivity of local police.

The ensuing controversy brought to light other allegations against Fortier, including some documented in town records, such as misuse of a town credit card and the borrowing of thousands of dollars from selectmen and a local developer.

FORTIER FOUGHT BACK

The Portland Press Herald interviewed dozens of former and current town officials and residents, and reviewed court and town documents, finding that Fortier had developed cozy friendships with town officials and prominent residents that blurred ethical boundaries and fueled rumors of municipal wrongdoing since he became the town’s manager in February 2009.

Fortier has decried the allegations against him, claiming many were motivated by resentment over his aggressive management style and firing of longtime town employees. He pointed to ambitious town projects, like an extensive Route 1 rebuild, and the financial health of the town as evidence of his good management.

But critics say Fortier was quick to take credit for accomplishments that were led by the town staff and pushed responsibility for his own actions onto others. In a three-hour interview with the Press Herald last week, Fortier allowed that some of his actions were irresponsible, but argued that his accomplishments as Ogunquit’s town manager should play a larger role in discussions about him. He questioned why he had received such scrutiny.

Following the board’s announcement on Fortier’s fate, town treasurer John Quartararo delivered a summary of the town’s 2015-2016 financial audit. He reported the town had $3.5 million in its savings account, more than required by town rules, and had made $1.95 million in parking fees.

“Fundamentally the town is in very good fiscal shape,” Quartararo said.

Kate McCormick can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

[email protected]

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