HAMPDEN, Maine — Meet Hampden’s new town manager. She’s the same as Hampden’s old town manager.
Susan Lessard, who has served Hampden as town manager for the last 11 years, will make it at least 14 after a 4-3 Town Council vote at Monday night’s meeting reinstated her as the full-time manager.
“I missed my home, the people who work here, the people who live here, and I missed the job. I’m a town manager and I tried to be something else,” Lessard said. “My decision to resign was personal.”
Lessard was hired as Southwest Harbor’s finance director in January. She said she will stay on in a limited capacity until a replacement is found for that position.
“Taking another job and working at it, I had time to reassess my decision,” said Lessard, who said she wanted to make some changes in her personal life when she resigned. “My decision was based on flawed logic, which is in order to make your life different, you have to quit and move. But the fact is, what you have to do is do a better job of drawing boundaries between your work life and personal life.”
The vote ended a seven-month search to replace Lessard after she submitted her resignation back in August and said she would stay on through 2011 or until her replacement was found.
She remained on the job part time after the new year began as the council struggled to confirm a replacement.
“One finalist decided not to accept an offer, and another asked to meet with full council and it didn’t happen,” said Councilor and Mayor Janet Hughes. “We had an original group of 60 candidates, got down to eight, and one dropped out.
“If a quorum had been able to be maintained, I believe the results would have been different. Maybe some things are meant to be.”
Hughes voted to reinstate Lessard along with fellow Councilors Thomas Brann, Andre Cushing and Jean Lawlis. Kristen Hornbrook, Jeremy Williams and Shelby Wright voted against it.
“It was probably the most difficult I’ve ever had to date,” said Wright. “My vote against reinstating her had nothing to do with her personally. It was more a confusion over the nature of the process.”
Wright said she originally preferred to abstain because she didn’t get the opportunity to share her thoughts on Lessard’s possible reinstatement during council discussion. She had her hand up, but Hughes didn’t see it before calling for a vote.
“Sue is probably one of the best town managers in the state and I recognize that,” Wright said. “I already knew at that point she’d be confirmed so I voted the way I did, but I fully support her and welcome her back.”
Hornbrook and Williams cited dissatisfaction with the search process and waste of council and staff time and money.
It was pointed out by Hughes that even with a $4,900 bill from the Maine Municipal Association for a candidate search and a $615 advertising cost, Lessard saved the town about $5,000 since her part-time status cut salary costs by $10,500.
Lessard put herself back into the mix only last weekend by sending councilors a private letter outlining her desire to return and the reasons. She read the letter during Monday’s meeting before the vote.
“The letter came about after the council’s failure to meet with the second candidate, after the first one bowed out,” she said, emphasizing that she had nothing to do with the council’s search for a replacement, making an effort to totally divorce herself from the process.
“The manager’s search is not the only reason the community’s been struggling,” Lessard said. “During the search, I stepped back and what became clear to me is somebody needs to step forward.”
Hornbrook and one resident who spoke during public comment period offered a theory that Lessard’s return was part of an orchestrated plan.
“I can’t help but think, as many residents probably do, that this was the plan all along,” Hornbrook said.
Both Hughes and Lessard bristled at the suggestion there was any kind of secret plan.
“I don’t even know what to say about people who think that this was some kind of plan,” Lessard said. “People can believe it or not. People who know me will know it’s the truth. People trying to prove a conclusion won’t.”