May 27, 2018
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Mount Desert manager’s contract not renewed

Mount Desert Town Manager Michael (Mike) MacDonald (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY LIZ CHAPMAN)
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

MOUNT DESERT, Maine — Despite facing pressure from many of the 125 or so local residents who attended an open session Monday night on Town Manager Mike MacDonald’s job performance, the Board of Selectmen voted not to extend MacDonald’s contract.

Selectmen Charles Bucklin and Marilyn Damon voted against extending the contract. Rick Mooers voted in favor of it. Tom Richardson, the new chairman of the board, abstained from the vote because he was not on the board for most of the process of evaluating MacDonald, which began in early October. Selectman Jean Bonville was not at Monday’s meeting because she is on vacation, Richardson said.

With the vote, MacDonald’s tenure as town manager will end by the time his contract expires next October. MacDonald was hired as Mount Desert’s town manager in October 2001.

During a 90-minute public discussion of MacDonald’s job performance on Monday evening at the local elementary school, the town manager told the board he disagreed with some of their criticisms in his evaluation. He said he has done an acceptable job with preparing and implementing the town budget and that he has exe-cuted town policy and handled personnel matters well. He said he has provided good leadership to the town’s staff, which is efficient and professional.

“I take great exception with this,” MacDonald said of the evaluation score he received for staff leadership.

Bucklin and Damon did not offer a lot of explanation for their criticisms but stuck with their positions. Bucklin said MacDonald has not adequately overseen town financial matters or managed the town staff properly.

“The general fund account has not been reconciled since June,” Bucklin said.

Damon criticized MacDonald for making late payments on town credit cards and for being unfamiliar and inconsistent with town policies.

“When late fees are paid I feel like someone is throwing my tax dollars out the window,” Damon said.

She said MacDonald did not consistently put a sign outside the town office each day that lists meeting dates and times for town committees and boards. She also said he told her the town doesn’t have a dress code policy — a charge MacDonald denied — even though such a policy is listed in the employee manual.

“I thought after eight years you should know what’s in the employee manual,” Damon said.

Many residents at the meeting seemed to support extending MacDonald’s contract.

“It’s nothing but nitpicking and personal bias,” George Peckham said of Bucklin’s and Damon’s criticisms.

But MacDonald did have detractors at the meeting besides the two selectmen. Sharon Gilley, a former dispatcher for the local Police and Fire departments, said that several department heads and many employees have quit their jobs under MacDonald’s leadership.

“You must know a different Mike MacDonald than the one I know,” she said to his defenders.

In 1993, the town became embroiled in a similar controversy when selectmen decided to fire former town manager Dick Vander Zanden. At the time, Richardson was not on the board but publicly criticized selectmen for how they handled Vander Zanden’s dismissal.

Richardson said Tuesday that he “absolutely” sees similarities between Vander Zanden losing his job and MacDonald losing his. In each case, candidates for selectman in preceding elections successfully ran for office with the intent of having the town manager dismissed, he said.

Richardson said Tuesday that he doesn’t think there is anything extraordinary about how town managers come and go in Mount Desert. Richardson was appointed to the board on Nov. 2 to complete the term of former Selectman Jeffrey Smith, who resigned last month after being arrested and charged with driving under the influ-ence.

“I just think this is a normal part of the process,” Richardson said. “I’m disappointed [MacDonald] is not going to get an extension.”

The board chairman added that MacDonald’s eight years as Mount Desert’s town manager represents a pretty significant amount of time.

“I can’t recall anybody who has been [in that position] as long as Mike,” Richardson said.

MacDonald said Tuesday that Mount Desert most recently had a town manager for at least eight years in the 1960s. He could not remember that former town manager’s name.

MacDonald said he is resigned to the fact that a year from now he’ll be gone from Mount Desert. He said he believes he has helped the town make important strides, such as upgrading the town’s sewer systems, and that he is disappointed that he will miss seeing other projects through to completion.

MacDonald said he does not plan to appeal the selectmen’s decision because there is no means by which he can do so. He expects to receive a written notice from the town next month that explains why his contract is not being renewed, which he said is required by state law.

MacDonald said he expects to serve out the term of his contract. He said that, despite not having his contract extended, he is glad the issue of his employment with the town seems to have been resolved.

“That’s what I appreciate,” MacDonald said. “Knowing what my future is, even if I don’t have one [in Mount Desert].”


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