ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland City Council rejected Wednesday night a request by one councilor to investigate the circumstances surrounding the unexpected resignation last month of Community Development Director Audrey Lovering.
The vote came despite another round of questions and criticisms raised by the public at the start of the meeting.
Councilor Eric Hebert noted that there is so much interest in the matter because the director was very visible in the community. He said, however, that the state prevents the council from providing details.
“The reality is that we just can’t tell you,” Hebert said.
Mayor Brian Harden said that councilors went into a closed-door executive session on Oct. 10 and asked questions that were answered by the city manager. He said Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson decided to leave that meeting and she is now asking for another meeting to ask the questions that already have been answered.
Dickerson said she left that meeting because things were said in the executive session that were illegal. She said the council only heard from one side. Dickerson said the action was borderline unconscionable.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said an improper issue was raised by one councilor but that it stopped before there was any discussion. He said he emphatically rejected the idea that the meeting crossed the line.
Dickerson said a councilor raised the issue of an employee’s behavior at a public meeting and that state law required that the employee should have been given the opportunity to be present when she was being discussed.
City Attorney Kevin Beal said that was the case only if that employee was being reviewed by the council.
Dickerson maintained, however, after the vote that Maine law states that “any person charged or investigated must be permitted to be present at an executive session if that person so desires.”
Several residents spoke out at the council meeting, asking that more information be released.
Former Community Development Director Rodney Lynch said he cannot go anywhere without being asked what happened with Lovering.
“It’s not really a personnel issue, it’s a taxpayer issue,” Lynch said, referring to the settlement agreement that the city manager signed with Lovering on Oct. 11 in which she was paid $21,000 as four months severance, a few thousand dollars in unused vacation and sick time, $2,000 for Lovering’s attorney, and health insurance premiums through January.
Lynch said that Lovering’s resignation has set back the city’s economic development efforts by two years.
He noted that Camden, Thomaston and Belfast are aggressive in their economic development efforts. He said the city will fall further behind these communities if the city does not act.
City Manager James Smith said the job will be advertised next week and he expects someone will be hired by the end of the year.
In other action Wednesday night, the council voted 4-1, with Dickerson opposed, to grant 2.5 percent raises to Smith as well as City Attorney Kevin Beal and City Clerk Stuart Sylvester. Dickerson said she could not support granting a raise to the city manager.
The council also voted 4-1, with Dickerson opposed, to approve a three-year labor contract with the Teamsters union that grants raises of 2.75 percent this year and 3 percent in both of the next two years. The contract also requires that employees pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums, from the current 15 percent last year to 20 percent by the final year of the contract. The contract covers police, public works and clerical workers.