NEWBURGH, Maine — The town of Newburgh hired an interim town manager Monday, four days after the sudden resignations of Town Manager Rick Briggs and two other employees.
Warren Hatch, who has more than 14 years of municipal administrative experience in the towns of Bowdoinham, Phippsburg, Damariscotta and Durham, agreed to take the job in Newburgh for a salary of $18 per hour. Hatch told the Bangor Daily News after a selectmen’s meeting Monday night that he likely will be a candidate for the permanent position, though selectmen said they have not yet decided their next steps.
Selectmen said they expect to have an interim town clerk — who will be appointed by Hatch — in place by the end of this week and hoped to reopen the town office on Wednesday.
Municipal operations ground to halt during a selectmen’s workshop Thursday when Briggs, 32-year Town Clerk Lois Libby and Assistant Town Clerk Jill Gilman resigned effective immediately, citing a caustic relationship with three new selectmen elected in March and a group of concerned Newburgh residents known as the Fixers. Aside from having no one to serve customers at the town office, the resignations caused the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the town’s authority to register vehicles. Board of Selectman Chairman Mike Burns said he expected that function to be restored with the hiring of Hatch.
Hatch, 56, of Dresden told about 50 people at Monday’s meeting that he was in the process of moving to the Bangor area last week when he read about the resignations in the Bangor Daily News. He contacted Burns on Friday and after a 20-minute executive session Monday was hired by a unanimous vote of the selectmen for an undetermined period.
“I enjoy serving the public,” said Hatch, who told the Bangor Daily News he is not related to former Town Manager Nancy Hatch, who resigned last year after the revelation that former Deputy Treasurer Cindy Dunton had embezzled almost $200,000 from the town. Dunton has pleaded guilty to the charge but has not yet been sentenced.
“You folks have just suffered a traumatic loss of people,” said Hatch. “From here on all we can do is wish them the best … keep our doors open and keep administering the town as best as we can. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here but I’m happy to be here.”
In a written statement, selectmen said they hoped Hatch’s hiring would move the town in a “positive direction.”
“Mr. Hatch promotes an honest, truthful and a completely open approach to town government and believes that all things should be done in accordance with the will of the voters, town ordinances and within legal limits,” reads the statement, in part. “We hope everyone will support our efforts to restore good government to our town.”
During a public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, some of the acrimony that has gripped Newburgh for the past year continued with some verbal jousting between selectmen and a few audience members. Leading the criticisms from the audience were Heather Rines and Diana Prescott, who are relatives of former Selectman Leona Smith. Smith resigned along with Leonard Belcher in March.
“This town is not secure as long as you three are sitting there,” said Rines during a discussion about a recent contract for road grading that was given to a new contractor instead of Kendall Davis, who had done the work for several years.
Prescott, who is Leona Smith’s sister, made reference to Burns’ history of challenging selectmen from the audience. Burns and other members of the Fixers have hounded the town for financial records for more than a year and made challenging selectmen at public meetings a regular occurrence.
“The shoe’s on the other foot now, isn’t it?” said Prescott. “It’s not so fun anymore, is it?”
Renee O’Donald, who was a Newburgh selectman years ago, also asked several pointed questions. During the conversation about the road grading contract, she appeared to take offense at a statement by Burns about his displeasure with Davis’ work, which Burns said was primarily due to the limitations of Davis’ equipment.
“I just want to remind you that you are representing us,” said O’Donald.
Selectmen, who spent much of Monday’s meeting inspecting spending warrants — several of which were for for less than $100 — said they will meet at least twice a week for the foreseeable future, including workshops at 6 p.m. Thursdays and regular meetings at 7 p.m. Mondays , all at the town office.