ROCKLAND, Maine — Rockland’s mayor and a councilor, both who are are seeking separate political seats Tuesday, are trading sharp emails concerning the abrupt, unexpected resignation last month of the city’s community development director.
“I must say, Lizzie, that I feel it is inappropriate of you to seek political capital in the press in this way by using a personnel matter to seek to tarnish me politically three days before an election in which I am a candidate,” Mayor Brian Harden stated in an email to Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson.
“If you want an investigation into the city manager’s conduct — ask for it. If you are not satisfied with the actions of the city manager — ask the council to fire him. But, stop trying to blame me. I was not involved in this personnel matter, and I have behaved as I am required by law. This is a serious issue that must be handled in a way that will protect the taxpayers of Rockland from any future damage,” Harden stated.
Community Development Director Audrey Lovering resigned officially on Oct. 10, although her final day of work was Oct. 1, according to City Manager James Smith. The resignation agreement signed by Lovering and Smith paid Lovering $21,000, which is equivalent to four months salary; paid her unused vacation and half of her unused sick time, which amounted to a few thousand dollars; will pay her health insurance premiums through Jan. 31; and will pay $2,000 for her legal bills.
The city manager has said he is prohibited by state personnel law from revealing any additional information about the circumstances of Lovering’s departure.
Mayor Brian Harden said the agreement came after the manager held a personnel hearing a few days before the Oct. 10 agreement was signed.
The mayor said Lovering was represented by an attorney, Smith had an attorney representing him, and an attorney was hired to moderate the hearing. Harden said City Attorney Kevin Beal was not in attendance because he represents the city council and the council was not involved in this personnel matter. The city manager is the city’s personnel director.
On Oct. 22, Rockland City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson told the Bangor Daily News that she wanted an investigation into the city manager’s actions.
“While the resignation of Audrey Lovering from her position as community development director is a personnel matter, it is important that the taxpayers of Rockland do not pay a $20,000 severance package to an outgoing department head without light being shed on this situation,” she said in the Oct. 22 email to the Bangor Daily News. “And it is essential that the city manager’s role as the supervisor of department heads, and sole decider in matters affecting the employment of department heads, is understood to the taxpayers of Rockland.”
Harden, who is seeking a fifth consecutive three-year term on the city council, appeared this week on a radio talk show on WRFR, hosted by former City Councilor Joseph Steinberger. In that show, Harden commented that Dickerson had not asked him for such an investigation.
On Friday evening, Dickerson sent an email to Harden with copies sent to the media, saying if her request was not clear to him she would discuss it with him.
“It is incumbent upon you to act in a timely manner to such a request when it is made, even if it is to simply acknowledge receipt of the request,” Dickerson stated.
Harden responded to Dickerson that evening in an email that he also shared with the media.
“Nine days ago you did not send me a request for an investigation into how the city manager had handled the recent personnel matter,” Harden stated.
In the mayor’s response, he noted that Dickerson asked for an inquiry into the process by which personnel matters are handled by the manager and also to discuss whether the council should have a human resources person to advise the city.
Harden continued in his Friday night email to Dickerson that he did not reply to her email because she did not ask him to do anything.
“You just said you want to have a discussion. Period — end of story,” Harden stated.
Harden noted that the council questioned the city manager during a closed-door session Oct. 10 in which the council was conducting its evaluation of the city manager. The mayor said the manager provided an explanation of what led to his actions. The mayor further pointed out that Dickerson left that executive session before it was completed.
Dickerson said Saturday, however, she left that closed-door session because the talk went beyond what it should have and Harden discussed Lovering without her being given the opportunity to attend as state law requires. Harden countered Sunday that the council has the right to question the manager on the matter during a closed-door meeting.
Dickerson is seeking election to the Maine House of Representatives, hoping to represent Rockland and part of Owls Head. She will remain on the council with her term extending through Nov. 14.
Harden is locked in a race for a single seat on the council with Harold Dale Hayward and Frank Isganitis.
Lovering has not returned a phone call seeking comment. Harden said Lovering is not restricted to talking about the facts of the case.
The resignation agreement prohibits the city and Lovering from making disparaging comments about the other.