DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County residents and Sheriff’s Department employees packed the superior courtroom on Monday to express outrage over a proposed cut in Sheriff John Goggin’s salary and the manner in which it was handled.
One resident after another lashed out at the commissioners Monday during the public hearing on the proposed budgets for the county and the Unorganized Territory, and some suggested the commissioners should resign.
Goggin was caught by surprise last week when he learned at a public meeting that the commissioners proposed to reduce his salary by $9,710 in last-minute budget deliberations. Goggin, whose salary was the only proposed salary cut, threatened to sue the commissioners and the county.
Tom Lizotte, chairman of the county commissioners, told the Piscataquis County budget advisory committee last week that the proposed cut in the sheriff’s salary was to “align his pay to the level of his performance.”
After several people spoke Monday, Lizotte said he regretted not informing Goggin of the salary proposal before the public meeting last week. Lizotte and Commissioners Fred Trask and Eric Ward agreed that the situation could have been handled better. The comments aired at the meeting will be considered when the commissioners adopt the budget next month, Lizotte said.
The matter should have been handled in private, Charlie Merrill of Dover-Foxcroft said. He said the move to cut Goggin’s salary sounded like “an eleventh-hour revenge-type move.” Singling out one person for a salary cut is no way to do business in this county, Merrill added. He called it a “real slap in the face and I think a real low blow” to have proposed to cut the salary of a man who has dedicated 40 years to county service. He said the commissioners should apologize to Goggin in public and reinstate his salary, and he added that Lizotte should resign as chairman.
While Merrill said Goggin had not received a raise in three years, Lizotte pointed out that Goggin had received a 3 percent raise in 2009.
Despite the raise, John Pullen of Monson said the way the commissioners handled Goggin’s salary reduction was a “disgrace.” He faulted the evaluation process.
“That process, if there was one, is both illogical, unprofessional and at best unethical and at worst, perhaps even illegal,” Pullen said. He strongly urged the commissioners reinstate the cut salary.
Others called the move vindictive because Goggin is outspoken regarding his department’s needs.
“I don’t think it’s vindictive to hold an elected sheriff to the same standard as the average worker,” Lizotte said. “That means a day’s work for a day’s pay,” saying that anything further must be dealt with in executive session.
Goggin took umbrage at that statement. He said he never has been evaluated by the commissioners nor has any other Maine sheriff been evaluated by their county commissioners.
“So what gives you the right to evaluate me?” Goggin asked.
Guilford Selectman Peter Martell said he supported the Goggin family and also Guilford Town Manager Tom Goulette, who he said has been abused by the commissioners during recent discussions about police coverage. Martell said he would contribute to Goggin’s legal fund if he does sue the commissioners and he asked for the resignation of Lizotte and County Manager Marilyn Tourtelotte.
Obviously pleased by the support at Monday’s meeting, Goggin thanked those who attended.
“I can’t tell you how humbled I feel about that; I just want to say thank you,” Goggin said.