Sangerville selectmen discuss appointment errors

Posted May 12, 2010, at 9:18 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:59 a.m.

SANGERVILLE, Maine — For more than an hour Tuesday, selectmen discussed an error they made and whether or not they needed to make revisions to prevent a possible lawsuit.

Although selectmen discovered they had overstepped their bounds when they had appointed several residents to positions ranging from the sealer of weights and measures to licensed plumbing inspector and code enforcement officer, they decided on Tuesday to keep the appointments in place.

Board Chairman Lance Burgess said he learned that under a town manager form of government, the town manager makes the appointments and the selectmen confirm them, unless the town has a charter that stipulates otherwise, and apparently Sangerville does not. The town now has an acting town manager while a search is being conducted to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Joe Clark.

“We’re trying to do it the legal way; we thought we were doing it the legal way,” Burgess said. It was only after some research did the board find they were in error.

That information apparently had been unknown until recently because it appears selectmen have been making those appointments over the years, according to Burgess.

Burgess said he contacted the Maine Municipal Association for some legal advice on the matter to learn whether the earlier appointments were illegal.

If the town had adopted the statutory town manager plan, the town manager is the one who would appoint all department heads and all other single officials that selectmen normally would appoint, Susanne Pilgrim, MMA staff attorney, wrote in a letter to selectmen received Tuesday. The selectmen would merely confirm the appointment of department heads, she wrote in her opinion. The town manager, however, would not appoint board and committee members and a single assessor, if necessary, Pilgrim noted.

“Even if the town manager has not appointed officials in the past, I do not think that this would make those previous appointments invalid,” Pilgrim said. She stated that there’s probably de facto authority for those official past actions.

The error surfaced after selectmen voted last month, at the planning board’s suggestion, to combine the code enforcement and licensed plumbing inspector’s positions. George Tozier, who had been appointed code enforcement officer, also became the plumbing inspector. That removed longtime plumbing inspector Frank Ruksznis from his position.

Ruksznis, who did not attend this week’s meeting and who allegedly never took his oath of office for the past two years, has since questioned the board’s action, according to Burgess.

“It is something that needs to be straightened out now and the proper channel of making those appointments has to be followed even if we’ve been operating in error in the past,” Selectman Tom Carone said.

Carone suggested the right thing to do would be to have the acting town manager appoint Ruksznis to the plumbing inspector’s position and keep Tozier as code enforcement officer. “In my opinion, I would say that what we did in error negated the appointment and consolidation of the LPI and the CEO,” he said.

Asked whether he would resign his position as plumbing inspector, Tozier, who was in the audience said, “Absolutely not, I’ve got courage for my convictions even if you lack them,” he said.

When an impasse was created because Burgess declined to back down from the appointments made last month, Carone agreed to keep the appointments because they were made in good faith. The third selectman, Harold Leland, was ill and did not attend the meeting.

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