WARREN, Maine — The Board of Selectmen narrowly voted Wednesday night to reappoint Town Manager Grant Watmough for another year.
The board voted 3-2 for the reappointment despite sharp criticisms of the veteran manager from several residents who spoke during the meeting. One of the residents stormed out after Watmough disputed the man’s accusations.
Board Chairman Doug Pope said that while he has had a rocky relationship with Watmough in the past, it would be shortsighted to not continue employing the manager. Pope and Selectman Dan Davey both noted that Watmough has announced he will retire at the end of July 2013 and that he should be kept on during that time.
“We need to use the time until then to find a new town manager. We can have a smooth transition,” Pope said.
Davey said good things have been done in town and that he knows from experience that if you are in a public position for a long time, you will come into conflict with someone. Davey served as Knox County’s sheriff for about 20 years.
Veteran Selectman Arnold Hill said he has probably had more arguments with Watmough than anyone but they respect each other.
Pope, Davey and Hill voted to reappoint Watmough.
Selectmen Ed LaFlamme and Michael York, who were elected last month, voted against Watmough.
LaFlamme said he had concerns about things not being done, citing issues raised in the town’s audit, the lack of action to clean up a former rifle range on Route 90, and three lawsuits in the past four years.
LaFlamme also noted that there had been complaints about someone who had been repeatedly parking on a sidewalk but nothing was done because the town did not have a parking ordinance.
“We can’t even get a car off the sidewalk,” he said.
York said he felt the town needed to go in a new direction. The new selectman said he was most troubled by the accusations by some residents that Watmough had lied to them.
During the public comment session of the meeting, resident Robert Graham accused Watmough of lying to him when he asked the manager about rumors he had heard that a methadone clinic was planned for town. Graham noted Watmough told him he had heard the same rumors but the town manager had held meetings on the matter and was aware it was much more than rumors.
Vincent Ahlholm accused the manager of telling him that a hauling bid had been renewed with another contractor but later learned it had not. He also said the manager had canceled an order for a “trucks entering” sign by his farm in retaliation for questions he had raised. He also accused the manager of taping their conversations.
Dan Pendleton said he stopped coming to the town office because he had been treated dishonestly and unprofessionally.
Watmough was asked by York to respond to the accusations.
The manager said he did not inform Graham about the plans for a methadone clinic in town because the talks had been held in an executive session with the selectmen and he did not feel he could reveal confidential talks.
He also denied taping any conversation at which point Ahlholm jumped up and disputed the statement.
“My ass, Grant,” Ahlholm said as he got up and left the meeting.
Watmough began work with the town as its code enforcement officer in August 1992. He first was appointed town manager in January 1996 and has been reappointed each year since then.
Selectmen had postponed a vote at their April 4 meeting on Watmough’s contract. Pope said he wanted the two new selectmen to have time to review past performance reviews by prior boards.
Watmough asked that the discussions on the renewal of his appointment be done in public session rather than a closed-door session. State law allows employees to ask for public reviews.