NEWBURGH, Maine — Former Hampden Mayor Rick Briggs will take over as Newburgh’s town manager effective today, filling the town’s top administrative post after selectmen unanimously hired him Monday evening.
Briggs’ hiring came after a months-long manager search, after which the top candidate turned down a full-time position twice, according to First Selectman Leonard Belcher. That prompted selectmen to reconsider continuing the position full time. Briggs, 49, who was not part of the original pool of applicants, will work approximately 15 to 30 hours a week at a rate of $25 an hour through April 13, 2011. Briggs will receive no insurance benefits or paid time off, though the town will pay his workers’ compensation insurance as is required by law.
“Honestly, I’m not asking for a long-term job,” said Briggs to the audience at Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting after Belcher and he signed the employment contract. “My goal is, let’s get us to town meeting and see what happens then.”
A major focus for Briggs will be digging the town out of a long period of controversy, much of it stemming from an alleged embezzlement of about $200,000 by the town’s former deputy treasurer, Cindy Dunton. Dunton has not yet been charged with anything in connection with the missing funds, though she reportedly has admitted to the town in writing that she stole the money.
Briggs, a 1979 Hampden Academy graduate, said one of his assets is that he was raised in Hampden and has spent a lot of time over the years in Newburgh. During a jovial and joke-ridden address to the audience Monday in the Newburgh Elementary School gymnasium, he remarked that one of his first jobs was replacing the caulking around one of the gym’s windows.
“I never stopped working after that,” he said, outlining a career that has spanned from 25 years as a firefighter and EMT to his current vocation as the owner of Bangor-based Maine Chauffeured Services.
Among Briggs’ initial responsibilities will be understanding the town’s fiscal situation, including the scope of the alleged embezzlement. He told the Bangor Daily News after the meeting that one of his top priorities will be development of a stringent set of procedures to ensure that taxpayer funds will be safe from the hands of thieves. Briggs also said that he favors changing the town office’s operating hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Briggs will work his hours as needed, but he vowed that he would learn how to do the duties of the town clerk in order to give clerk Lois Libby some respite.
“I’ll need to be trained how to do that,” he said. “I’m not afraid to wear any amount of hats I’m asked to wear.”
Briggs’ hiring, in addition to filling an important municipal post, appeared to bring something else to this troubled town: harmony. The leaders of a citizen group that call themselves “The Fixers,” which has been analyzing town financial records and criticizing selectmen for months, said after the meeting they were pleased.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Chris Yountz, one of the leaders of the group. Mike Burns, another of the leaders, agreed.
“I think we’ve kind of struck a middle ground between what the selectmen were looking for and we were looking for,” said Burns.
Among his many promises, Briggs also offered a pledge:
“A terrible thing has happened in this town,” he said. “One thing you’ll find from me is that I will never lie to you and I will never steal from you.”
Those words were greeted by applause from everyone in attendance, including a standing ovation from a few.