June 21, 2018
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Two resignations leave Newburgh with 1 selectman

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

NEWBURGH, Maine — Two of the town’s selectmen announced their resignations Monday night, leaving the town with only one board member, a newcomer at that.

Tendering their resignations Monday night at the end of the board meeting that drew about 50 residents were Chairman Leonard “Buddy” Belcher, who had two years remaining on a three-year term, and Leona Smith, who had one year left of her three-year term.

The sole remaining selectman, Mike Burns, beat out incumbent Stanley “Skip” Smith in local elections on March 8. In his bid for election, Burns had the backing of Concerned Citizens of Newburgh, also known as the “Fixers.”

According to published reports, Burns is a core member of the watchdog group that formed after a recent audit uncovered fiscal mismanagement.

As a result of the discovery, former Deputy Treasurer Cindy Dunton stands accused of embezzling nearly $200,000 in town funds between 2006 and 2009.

Dunton, who last appeared in court in connection with the matter in January, was tentatively scheduled for a disposition hearing on Monday, but the hearing was continued to a date that has yet to be set.

Town Manager Rick Briggs said Monday night that it wasn’t yet clear what steps will need to be taken to fill the two board vacancies.

Before resigning, however, board members approved a policy authorizing the town’s sole remaining selectman, Burns, to sign warrants related to paying the town’s education costs and payroll.

Briggs said the authority extends only to those two budget areas. All other payments, including those owed to vendors with which the town does business, will have to wait.

Belcher declined to comment on his resignation after Monday night’s meeting, instead deferring to a statement he made to the Bangor Daily News on Saturday, when residents held their annual town meeting.

“Based on the votes cast on March 8, it would appear that the majority of voters want to move in a different direction,” he said at that time. “That, coupled with the hurtful, personal and mean actions of a small group have left me no choice but to resign.”

Smith, who cited a “conflict of interest” as her reason for resigning, declined to elaborate after Monday’s meeting.

She did, however, make the following comment during Monday’s meeting:

“To those who have their own agenda, you can run the town,” she said.

Before stepping down, Belcher and Smith thanked their board colleagues for working through the turmoil of the past year. They credited Briggs and Town Clerk Lois Libby for restoring a sense of normalcy at the town office.

“Rick has done a fabulous job,” Belcher said. “I’m totally happy with what he’s done. I appreciate all the support the town of Newburgh has given Leona and I, and I would say you guys are a bunch of fabulous people. Thank you very much.”

He said under Briggs’ direction, the town “got its finances straight.”

“We’re solid,” Smith agreed. “We have more money in reserve than we’ve ever had.”

Though the Fixers group hailed Burns’ recent election as a victory, some townspeople were clearly angry over the resignations.

Resident Jim Cote was among them.

“I think it’s deplorable that the two of you were run out of this town for the actions of someone else that you were not accountable for,” he said, calling the political pressure placed on the two “ridiculous and deplorable.”

Joe Butera agreed: ““I think we’re losing a lot of good people, I really do,” he said after the meeting. “Like they said, the town is in better shape than it’s ever been because these people who pulled together and got the town where it is right now.

“The town has never been this good in the 22 years that I’ve lived here,” he said.

Asked if he thought Belcher and Smith had become scapegoats for the finance mess Dunton allegedly left behind, Butera said, “Yeah, of course they are. You think so?”

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