Veazie Sewer District trustees rework controversial superintendent contract, plan to negotiate

Posted March 14, 2012, at 11:13 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — After two executive sessions totaling more than two hours and 15 minutes in length, the Veazie Sewer District trustees delayed public discussion of the proposed contract for the 23-year superintendent until the district’s next meeting.

After coming out of the executive sessions — the first of which the trustees used to consult with an attorney and the second of which they used to discuss “employment duties and compensation of an individual public official” — trustee Chairwoman Esther Bushway told audience members that the contract had been revised during executive session at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Bushway said the trustees would enter negotiations with Superintendent Gary Brooks and reconsider the revised contract after next month’s sewer district board meeting, where the new version may be voted on in public after another executive session. She pointed out that town councils form contracts with town managers in much the same way.

About 35 residents packed into the sewer district’s garage for the meeting. Several attendees said during the meeting that they felt left in the dark and wanted a say in the contract.

“I think you’ll see that [the contract] won’t harm the sewer district, and it will keep good people in place,” Bushway said. “We’ve pretty much agreed on the terms.”

During contract discussions, the trustees were “not quite hitting each other but coming close,” Bushway said.

Bushway presented the contract during a February board meeting. The three-year contract promises superintendent Gary Brooks a $74,500 salary per year plus benefits through Dec. 31, 2014.

Bushway said she brought the contract before the board of trustees because some other department heads in municipalities like Orono and Bangor have contracts and she fielded several suggestions that Brooks have a contract.

Brooks said during the meeting that he drafted part of the original contract with assistance from an attorney. He hasn’t had a contract for the past 23 years.

The contract stipulates that Brooks may terminate the agreement at any time after providing 30 days’ written notice. The sewer district trustees may terminate the superintendent’s employment, provided they pay him the full salary for each of the three years, according to the contract. The agreement and Brooks’ employment also could be extended or terminated by the trustees after the initial term ends on the last day of 2014.

On Monday, Rob Tomilson, the newest sewer district trustee, emailed a letter to Veazie residents that questioned the motives behind the contract and argued that it would make Brooks immune from dismissal without paying the superintendent’s full three-year salary.

During the executive session, residents mingled in the garage, sharing excerpts from several letters that have been widely circulated during the course of the week questioning the motives behind the contract.

In one of these letters, resident Travis Noyes wrote, “We as rate payers will not allow this type of personal, almost nepotistic approach to be put on us without some level of recourse.”

Tomilson has criticized increasing labor expenses at the sewer district and compared Brooks’ salary with the salary of 30-plus-year Bangor Wastewater Treatment Department Superintendent Brad Moore’s salary of $77,680, a salary Moore confirmed Tuesday.

Tomilson argued that Moore’s responsibilities were “exponentially greater” than Brooks’ because Veazie has a Grade III wastewater facility, which is less complex and serves a smaller population than a Grade V treatment plant, such as Bangor’s.

Brooks said during an interview Tuesday that comparing Veazie’s sewer district’s staff and facility with the facility and operation of Bangor’s wastewater treatment department doesn’t give an accurate view of staff workload or costs in Veazie’s system.

Bangor operates a municipal facility, meaning that most major sewer decisions, such as changes to rates, are handled by city officials. Bangor’s wastewater treatment department handles billing and some other services in-house.

Brooks said that other municipal facilities may have town or city officials who handle liens, delinquencies and other business, but Veazie’s quasi-municipal sewer district uses its own staff to deal with these sorts of responsibilities. Brooks said he essentially has to act as “town manager” for the sewer district, supervising and handling situations that town employees would handle at some municipal wastewater systems.

He also said Veazie’s Sewer District’s labor costs are higher than other districts that are comparable in size because its employees do in-house repairs to the district’s vehicles and equipment that other facilities might shop out to third parties.

Trustee Gary Brown said Tomilson’s email didn’t go to the superintendent or any of the trustees.

On Tuesday, Brown said he didn’t have any issues with the contract, arguing that the sewer district has seen very few violations under Brooks’ leadership and finds ways to save the district from expenses by “doing a lot of things in house that normally would be farmed out.”

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