Letters illustrate Bangor Chamber conflict

Posted July 07, 2009, at 8:24 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — In advance of a special meeting of Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce members later this week, more information has emerged about the sudden dismissal of Chamber president Candy Guerette.

According to a letter from John Diamond, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors, sent recently to Chamber members, the decision to oust Guerette was based on poor job performance, although Diamond didn’t expand on that claim.

Her dismissal, which was first approved on June 26 by a seven-member executive committee, included an offer of three months severance pay plus benefits.

Charles Gilbert, Guerette’s lawyer, responded to the executive committee’s decision with a counteroffer of sorts, in which he said Guerette would step aside only if certain requirements were met. Those requirements, outlined in a letter dated June 30 from Gilbert to the Chamber’s attorney, Michael Duddy of Portland, that was obtained by the Bangor Daily News, included:

• Payment of all accrued vacation and sick pay.

• Continuation of health insurance until the end of the year.

• Payment of eight months severance.

• A truthful letter of recommendation outlining the accomplishments during her 13-year tenure.

• Written assurance Diamond is not and will not be a candidate as her successor.

On Wednesday, July 1, the board’s executive committee rejected Guerette’s demands and instead unanimously approved four months severance pay plus health insurance through Oct. 31. In order for Guerette to receive those benefits though, she would have to sign a release and turn over all passwords, property and information related to the Chamber’s operations. Additionally, Guerette would not be permitted to enter Chamber offices again.

Gilbert, however, doesn’t consider the matter resolved.

In his June 30 letter, the attorney said he assumes the Chamber does not want Guerette to return and that it would like her to sign a release and nondisparagement-confidentiality agreement that would prohibit both sides from talking about the matter. The attorney said that would happen only if the requirements were met.

“In our view, there is ample basis to assert claims and to air a considerable amount of dirty linen to defend Candy’s reputation,” Gilbert wrote. “But if the parties reach agreement, there is no reason to go down that road.”

Referring to preliminary discussions that pointed to four months pay as the probable offer, Gilbert wrote that such a proposal would be a deal breaker. If that happened, he indicated in the letter his intent to take the matter to the full board of directors because his client is entitled to at least six months severance under the Cham-ber’s employment policy.

Diamond, however, said that entitlement does not apply in cases of poor performance.

Neither Diamond nor Gilbert divulged Guerette’s salary, but she and other Chamber employees are paid, in part, by membership dues.

If the matter is not resolved amicably, it likely will end up in court.

“In these situations, there is a lot to be said for the parties to come to a parting of the ways and move on,” Gilbert wrote. “It is in this spirit that this offer in compromise is made. Ms. Guerette has put the long-term interests of the Chamber ahead of her own interests. Those currently holding positions at the Chamber will hopefully do the same.”

Independent of potential legal action, the board will host a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Friday, July 10, at the Bangor Public Library to discuss further and perhaps resolve the executive committee’s decision to remove Guerette. That meeting was granted after 22 Chamber members signed a petition and delivered it to Diamond last week. It’s open to any and all of the more than 850 Chamber members.

According to the petition, the special meeting is being called “for the purpose of voting to instruct the board of directors to appoint an outside committee … to investigate and report to the board within 30 days concerning the conflict between the current chair and treasurer and the president over alleged job performance and pol-icy issues, and to make recommendations in the best interests of the chamber on how to resolve those issues and move forward.”

Gilbert called the situation involving his client “fluid” and said Friday’s meeting was not an official board meeting. He wasn’t sure it would resolve that matter.

“In my view, there has been no legal termination at this point,” he said. “There has been the decision of a select few.”

Diamond has contended that the board’s executive committee is empowered to make decisions when the full board is not in session. It’s not clear whether the full board will end up voting on the Chamber’s decision to part ways with Guerette.

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