May 23, 2019
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Residents angry over fire chief dismissal seek recall of 3 selectmen

Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star
Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star
Former Ogunquit Fire Chief Mark O'Brien, foreground, testifies before the Select Board earlier this month. Selectmen upheld O'Brien's termination on Oct. 9.

OGUNQUIT, Maine — Residents upset over the firing of the town’s former fire chief have started the process to have three of the five Select Board members recalled.

Resident John Mixon said when Town Manager Pat Finnigan fired former Fire Chief Mark O’Brien on Sept. 18 that “was the last straw” for many townspeople who have been unhappy with her style of leadership for months.

Mixon said he was acting on behalf of a large number of residents when he started the recall process Oct. 10, one day after the five-member Select Board upheld Finnigan’s decision to fire O’Brien, who had worked for the town for 37 years.

“I think the town manager is doing a horrible job, she has divided this town on multiple issues, and the three (selectmen) have voted with her every single time,” Mixon said.

[Residents forced to leave Ogunquit meeting over fire chief]

The affidavits submitted to the town clerk ask for the recall of Select Board Chair Charles “Bunky” Waite, Selectwoman Madeline Mooney and Selectman Bob Winn. All three voted to support O’Brien’s termination following a public appeal hearing held by the board on Oct. 9 at O’Brien’s request. Selectmen Rick Dolliver and John Daley voted against upholding O’Brien’s termination. The nearly 200 people in attendance were thrown out after erupting in anger when it became apparent that the board was going to uphold Finnigan’s decision.

Ogunquit resident Ben Hershenson started the Facebook page Take Back Ogunquit following O’Brien’s firing. The response, he says, has been amazing. Residents immediately took to the page, posting about recalling the three board members.

“People are very upset. They want control of our town back,” he said.

Hershenson has been an active resident of Ogunquit since 1980, serving on boards and committees. He doesn’t like what he’s seeing with the direction of town government.

“The style and communication is very poor. The votes are 3-2, 3-2, 3-2 always. There seems to be a lack of due process all around, not just with this issue,” he said.

Town Clerk Chris Murphy said Tuesday afternoon that she is still in the process of certifying the signatures on the affidavits. When that process is complete, she will issue the recall petitions, she said. There will be 10 copies of each petition for residents to circulate, with 195 signatures needed for each recall.

[‘I’ve got nothing to hide’: Fire chief says he’ll fight termination]

Mixon said they hope to get 300 to 400 signatures to send a message.

Hershenson said the Select Board is the town entity that hires, and can ultimately fire the town manager.

Both Hershenson and Mixon said they’ve heard from a lot of people who want change at town hall.

“We want a responsible government,” Mixon said.

Finnigan, Waite and Mooney did not return requests for comment.

O’Brien was put on paid administrative leave by Finnigan on June 27 during an investigation into concerns brought to her by firefighters. Following the investigation she chose to fire O’Brien on Sept. 18, it was said during the appeal hearing. Finnigan said there were concerns brought to her about safety, careless administration of the department, and O’Brien’s unprofessional manner with firefighters which created a toxic work environment.

[USA Today names Ogunquit America’s ‘best coastal small town’]

O’Brien said there was no attempt by Finnigan to raise any of these issues with him and that he did not know the reason for his termination. He has said he will appeal his termination to the Superior Court.

O’Brien served as interim town manager following the February 2017 resignation of embattled former town manager Tom Fortier who was charged with charging for parking in a town lot and reportedly keeping the money instead of turning it over to the town. In July, Fortier reached an agreement with prosecutors to have the theft charges against him dismissed in exchange for 100 hours of community service.

Ed Smith, a retired Ogunquit fire chief, is now serving as the town’s interim fire chief.

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