DEXTER, Maine — Dexter Town Manager Dave Pearson acknowledged Thursday that he submitted his resignation over philosophical differences with some Town Council members over the handling of a situation with the police chief.
Pearson had asked last month to resign effective in February 2012, but the council voted Thursday to amend that to Sept. 1, 2011, in advance of budget deliberations.
Residents who were concerned that Pearson was pressured to resign by some council members quizzed him further at Thursday night’s council meeting about his decision. One resident also faulted the council for its use of executive sessions.
“I was told my future with the town was very much connected to the action I took” regarding Police Chief Jim Emerson, Pearson said. Rather than divide the town, Pearson said, he submitted his resignation.
Pearson, a longtime employee who previously was tax assessor, admitted Thursday that early retirement hadn’t crossed his mind until after November’s municipal elections. He said the town is doing well: Taxes have been lowered during his tenure, the staff was reduced but services were maintained, policies were updated and about $4 million in grants were obtained. What happened since the elections, he said, is a difference in philosophies and points of view on interpretations of the town charter and policies, especially regarding the performance of the police chief.
At issue is Emerson’s future with the town. In October, his four full-time officers signed a letter of no confidence in him. An investigation done by the town and an outside consultant uncovered no malfeasance on Emerson’s part, but did indicate he had “some lapses of judgment.” As a result of the investigation, Emerson completed 90 days’ probation and was ordered to participate in training.
Some council members wanted Emerson terminated.
“If the council and I don’t agree on the meaning of the charter, and if we don’t agree on the roles of the council and the roles of the town manager, then I become basically a lightning rod for issues on the council,” Pearson said.
Pearson said he personally felt he was following the town’s charter in dealing with the personnel matter and was affording Emerson his rights as outlined in the charter. He said some council members wanted him to take a specific action that he wasn’t comfortable taking.
“They’ve asked me to change positions and I basically have agonized over whether I should do what I’m being told to do or what I think is right,” he said.
Resident Michael Ricker, who supports Pearson, said he believed the council was “misguided.”
“From this meeting to the next meeting there can be a total new change, and mark my word, it’s in the fix,” he warned, noting that he had contacted an attorney about a recall process. “People put you in and people can take you out.”
Others spoke in favor of Pearson, including Missy Smith. “We need you. … Don’t leave. You belong here,” she said.
Pearson said some council members believe they have much broader personnel powers than the charter dictates or the town’s attorney has advised, something he doesn’t see changing.
Rather than fight with the council on what he believes is right, Pearson said he would rather make an orderly transition to doing something else.
“The most important thing to me is my honor and integrity, and I want to hang on to that,” he said.