June 20, 2018
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Little support on Rockland council for investigation into city manager’s actions

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — No city councilor other than sponsor Elizabeth Dickerson said he or she would support an investigation into the city manager’s actions in the unexpected, abrupt resignation of Community Development Director Audrey Lovering.

Dickerson has asked for the investigation to be done in a closed-door session.

The council is scheduled to vote on her request at its next regular meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 14.

A poll of councilors taken immediately after the Monday night meeting, however, found no one willing to say they would go along with her request.

Councilor William Clayton said that while he usually waits to make a final decision on how to vote on issues on the night of the meetings in order to hear any last-minute arguments, he plans to vote against Dickerson’s request.

“I’m leaning against voting for it [investigation],” Clayton said. “She left the meeting where we talked about it.”

City councilors discussed Lovering’s resignation at an Oct. 10 closed-door executive session during their evaluation of City Manager James Smith.

Clayton said if Dickerson had remained at the meeting, there would be no need for her to call for a meeting to discuss the manager’s actions.

Councilor Larry Pritchett said he was not sure what exactly Dickerson hoped to accomplish with the investigation. He said if it was to have access to confidential documents, that would be something that would need to be done in a closed session. If she wants to talk about the process of dealing with personnel matters, that is something that should be done as part of the process of evaluating the city manager, Pritchett said.

Councilor Eric Hebert said he also was not sure what the purpose of an investigation would be. He said he has not formulated his response to her request but will by next week’s meeting.

Mayor Brian Harden said Monday night he had no comment on her request.

In an email exchange over the weekend, however, Harden criticized Dickerson for politicizing the Lovering resignation.

He also has pointed out that the other councilors have not asked for such an investigation because they stayed at the Oct. 10 executive session. Dickerson said she left the meeting because the evaluation of the manager had extended into discussion by the mayor about Lovering’s departure. Dickerson said that state law requires that a public employee being discussed has the legal right to be in attendance.

Several residents spoke at the public comment session of the meeting, criticizing the secrecy surrounding the departure, particularly because tax dollars were used.

Lovering resigned officially on Oct. 10, although her final day of work was Oct. 1, according to 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.

Steve Carroll of Rockland called the payment hush money.

Former Councilor Joseph Steinberger also criticized the use of the money without a public explanation.

“It’s outrageous that you spend our money so that she doesn’t talk,” Steinberger said.

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