HAMPDEN, Maine — Frustrations among Town Council members continued to boil over Monday night during a special meeting to review nearly 50 applications for the town manager post slated to open up with the departure of Susan Lessard.
Lessard, who has held the position for more than 11 years, announced in August that she plans to leave the town’s employ, though not immediately.
Before the meeting, Mayor Janet Hughes said the council hopes to find its next manager by the end of the year or shortly thereafter.
Monday night’s meeting apparently was a “do-over” of a similar session on Oct. 25.
At the start of the meeting, Hughes said the meeting was called because of “a question of whether or not the items on [the Oct. 25] agenda were properly addressed through the executive session process. .. We asked you to come back so we can make sure that we properly address entering into an executive session” so the town manager search can move forward.
Though it lasted less than an hour and most of that time was spent in executive session, the meeting got off to a rocky start when Councilor Kristen Hornbrook challenged Town Attorney Thomas Russell’s interpretation of the council’s rules.
She questioned his position that public comments did not have to be taken because the meeting was not a regular scheduled meeting but rather a special one called for a specific reason.
Shortly afterward, the councilors did enter executive session. The discussion apparently did not go smoothly. Ten minutes later, Hornbrook emerged with a police escort.
Sgt. Dan Stewart, who provided the escort, took steps to make it clear to the small group of residents waiting outside the council chamber that Hornbrook had not been ejected from the meeting but rather left on her own volition.
Though Hornbrook declined to elaborate on why she left the session, she did say that the discussion began “off topic” and that when she raised concerns about that, Hughes became upset and turned the meeting over to Deputy Mayor Andre Cushing.
Hornbrook said other councilors had accused her of trying to capture some of the discussion on her personal tape recorder. She denied having done so.
When asked after the meeting, Russell said he did not believe Hornbrook had taped any of the discussion.
Back in open session, Cushing said the council’s plan with regard to the manager search was to ask the Maine Municipal Association, which has been tapped to lead the effort, to retain the top 16 candidates and begin scheduling interviews with the top six contenders.
When asked what happened during the executive session and what prompted Hornbrook to leave, Cushing said that to divulge what transpired would be a violation of the state’s law regarding executive sessions.
Though the meeting last week that was called into question appears to have been posted on the community calendar page of the town’s website, it is not among the meetings listed in the section for Town Council meeting agendas and packets.
Recent tensions among councilors, town staff and residents stem in part from the council’s decision last fall to pass an updated comprehensive plan, a document that essentially serves as an inventory of town assets and a guide for future land use planning.
The 2010 version came under fire from residents who said the plan could infringe on their property rights. A core group committed to ensuring the 2010 plan never moves forward organized as the Hampden Area Landowners Association, or HALO. Members of the group and others in the community have become increasingly vocal and critical of town government.