DEXTER, Maine — Nearly 50 residents and local business owners packed into the Dexter Town Council chambers on Tuesday evening to hear whether Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs would keep her job.
Sixteen people stood to voice their opinions about Briggs’ performance during her first five-plus months on the job. Not one said anything negative.
“To have a manager that can come in in this short amount of time and take over the departments that she has all at once, and change our morale and get us all working together and actually enjoy being with each other and helping each other is something we never had before,” said Anita Colomy, the town’s assessor. “I think that is truly a gift, and that’s a gift she’s given to the town of Dexter.”
Dexter police Sgt. Alan Grinnell also expressed his support for Briggs.
“I have only the highest regard for her. She’s a strong leader,” said Grinnell. “She’s done an awesome job of uniting the department heads, [and getting] everyone within the town as employees working together. I feel a unity that I wasn’t feeling before.”
Former council Chairman Roger Brawn said he has been impressed with Briggs since he first interviewed her for the job last year.
“She has a tremendous work ethic. I feel that she’s done an outstanding job,” said Brawn. “As far as the employees are concerned, she’s made them into a good cohesive unit. I believe she’s increased production.”
“I was overwhelmed and humbled,” said Briggs on Wednesday, referring to the show of support during Tuesday’s meeting. “I could not have even begun to think there could be that much support for someone just coming in. I believe it really is a show of the citizens’ … need to move forward.
“I didn’t realize I had affected so many people in such a short period of time,” she said.
After the councilors listened to supporters, they went into executive sessions for 2 hours and 14 minutes to conduct Briggs’ evaluation. More than 40 residents stayed until the public vote of the board.
“It’s like waiting for a jury to come back,” said Briggs.
The crowd gave a round of applause after the unanimous vote was tallied — 6-0 — to keep Briggs as the town’s manager.
A woman in the crowd yelled “thank you” through the applause.
Briggs’ contract extends to July 1, 2014. She also will receive a salary increase to $63,000 per year, a bump up from $50,000 per year.
After the town manager was decided, the councilors attempted to tackle another issue — hiring a new police chief.
Briggs cited a town policy that asks for the town to start an internal search for a new chief before advertising the position outside of the department.
“I want to give the folks who want to do the job an opportunity to apply for it,” said Briggs at the meeting.
Acting Police Chief Sgt. Kevin Wintle took over after Jim Emerson retired in February.
The town hired Arizona-based Leadership Strategies as a consultant to hire a new police chief at a cost of $5,400. Finding an internal candidate will cost the town an additional $498, if only one candidate applies. The cost will increase by $199 by each candidate interviewed.
The town should move quickly on finding a new chief because the cost of overtime from hiring part-time officers is piling up, Briggs said.
“I’d rather start the process sooner rather than later,” said Briggs on Wednesday. “I emailed [Leadership Strategies on Tuesday] night after I finally went home.”
The councilors voted 5-1 to move forward with finding a candidate for police chief internally before posting the job outside the department.