Presque Isle official ends legal bid to keep job

Posted Nov. 01, 2009, at 8:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:39 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Although disappointed by the City Council’s decision, City Manager Tom Stevens said late last week he would not pursue any further legal avenues to request that the council reconsider recruiting a new city manager.

“No further action is planned,” Stevens said late Thursday. “I tried to state my case to the best of my ability, and I love this city too much to explore any further legal avenues.”

The meeting, held Oct. 26, was scheduled after it was announced last month that the council had decided not to renew Stevens’ contract when it expires next year.

The manager had multiyear contracts up to last year, when it was extended for only one year. Stevens said that in April or May, he asked the council through his attorney to reconsider not renewing his contract.

Council Chairman Ed Nickerson maintains that councilors are grateful to Stevens and what he has done for the city for the past 17 years, but said they have decided not to renew Stevens’ contract because they want the city to “move into the 21st century.”

During last week’s meeting, Nickerson reiterated that the council is looking for a creative way to bring more innovation, jobs, businesses and other advancements to the area. Councilors believe a new manager might help that process.

Nickerson said councilors told Stevens to “actively and earnestly seek employment elsewhere” when they extended his contract last year. He added that councilors told Stevens that if he had not found a job by Oct. 1, the council would initiate the search for a new manager.

Stevens has not disputed that.

Nickerson said councilors told Stevens they wanted to bring more innovation and jobs to the area several years ago and presented him with their suggestions about what they wanted to see and how to do it.

Councilors contend that Stevens failed to take adequate action, according to Nickerson.

Stevens late last week said he has done everything he could with the resources the city has had on hand, pointing out that numerous businesses have been established and expanded in the city over the past few years.

During last week’s meeting, a significant crowd gathered at City Hall, many to voice support for Stevens.

At the start of the meeting, Nickerson read a statement indicating the reasons the city decided not to renew Stevens’ contract.

Councilors initially did not want to take public comment on the matter, but they reluctantly agreed after being pressed by the audience and Stevens’ attorney, Norman Trask.

Stevens, 54, started his career in 1976 at age 21 as Millinocket’s welfare director. He was town manager of Limestone for 12 years before accepting a position as town manager in Standish.

In August 1992, he was hired as city manager of Presque Isle.

Trask requested that Stevens be granted a new two-year contract with no pay increase. He confirmed that councilors have said they want the city to go in a new direction, but said they have never elaborated on that point.

He noted that the city has flourished with Stevens at the helm, pointing out that numerous businesses have been created and expanded during his tenure.

Such growth is ongoing, Trask said. He also reminded councilors that a new 58,500-square-foot Hampton Inn Presque Isle just opened on Main Street in August.

Trask pointed out that Stevens also has received a variety of awards during his tenure as manager.

He told the audience Stevens had done “nothing inappropriate” to spark the council’s decision and had no “dirty laundry” that he needed to hide.

Several residents told councilors they felt the public was not being given all the information about why Stevens’ contract was not being renewed. Councilors denied this, saying they were being as open as they possibly could. They stressed that some matters were discussed in executive session and could not be talked about pub-licly.

Charlie Beck, a Presque Isle resident, was most vocal in his opposition to the council’s decision. He accused councilors of “hiding behind executive session” and reminded the council that the residents could remove them from their seats.

Councilors denied Beck’s accusation, stressing that their decision was not about what Stevens “did right or wrong.” Nickerson reiterated that “change is necessary to move [the city] into the 21st century.”

Nickerson pointed out that he felt the city charter said the council retained the right to hire and fire city managers with or without cause.

Stevens will leave his post when his contract ends in January.

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