DEXTER, Maine — A proposed ordinance to transfer just under $48,000 from the town’s unreserved fund balance to the department head’s wage and benefits account drew some heated comments at last week’s Dexter Town Council meeting.
Several residents questioned the need for the transfer and pressed the council for more details.
While declining to give details of the arrangement, Council Chairman Peter Haskell confirmed that the transfer was related to the departure of former Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs last month.
When pressed for answers, Haskell said that if he gave out too many details, “It would put us in a bind. We signed an agreement, but we just can’t talk about it. It would cost us a lot more if we wound up with a lawsuit.”
One man asked why the council “would enter into an agreement with a former town employee and not talk about it. It doesn’t sound right.”
Haskell said, however, that the agreement “saved the town money.”
Sharon Grant, who was just elected to the town council and takes office after Jan. 1, said that the town’s stance was appropriate. “If it’s a personnel issue, you cannot discuss it. They [the council] are telling you what they’re going to do, and that’s as far as they can go,” Grant said.
But another woman questioned the validity of “taking thousands of dollars out of the town’s budget to pay for this without our approval. You’re making decisions with our money.” Haskell responded, “That’s why you elected us.”
Councilor Alan Wintle said that if the council “violated the contract, it would cost us a lot more money to go any further with this.”
Briggs’ salary was $63,000 a year, and the proposed ordinance included $39,675 in department head wages, $2,377 in health insurance benefits, $2,618 in employee benefits, $2,607 in FICA expenses and $609 in Medicare expense.
The Piscataquis Observer filed a Maine Freedom of Access request for a copy of Brigg’s separation agreement on Nov. 15. The Town Council was scheduled to meet in executive session on Monday, Nov. 18 to discuss “confidential records per Maine Statute 405 (6) (F).”
In other business conducted at last week’s session, councilors officially accepted the election results, which saw three new members elected to the town council: Grant, Ronald Apel and Mark Robichaud.
There was no opposition to the two positions on the SAD 46 Board of Directors, so Rebecca MacDonald and Stephanie Watson were elected.
The referendum on forming a charter commission passed easily 361-218 and four out of five state bond issues were favored by Dexter voters. The only one that didn’t pass was a proposed $4.5 million bond for a science lab at Maine Maritime Academy.
Voter turnout in Dexter was approximately 28 percent.
Special amusement permits were granted for the Moosehead Trail Motor Lodge and the Watering Hole; and liquor license renewals were granted for the Moosehead Trail Motor Lodge and Brewster Inn.