Orrington selectmen voted 3 to 2 Tuesday night to fire Town Manager Joan Gibson, whose first day on the job was March 11.
Gibson, 58, of Levant was the third person to leave the position in less than a year. Her firing was effective immediately.
She did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting, but said Wednesday that selectmen violated the town charter in firing her. She’s now seeking legal advice over her firing, she said.
No one has yet been appointed to serve as interim town manager.
The firing is expected to further divide the community already at odds over a proposed $3.5 million public safety building that voters rejected in December and the elimination of a community policing program with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office. The town’s police chief quit last month.
The vote came at a specially scheduled Select Board meeting that was a continuation of the regularly scheduled May 13 meeting. An evaluation of Gibson’s performance was held in executive session last week.
The motion to fire Gibson was made by Selectman Charles Green and seconded by Selectman Christopher Robison. Board Chairman Allan Snell joined them in voting to fire Gibson.
Selectmen Keith Bowden and Michael Curtis opposed the motion.
Snell said that he based his vote on the goals he had set for Gibson when she took the job in March and comments he’s heard from town employees and residents about Gibson’s job performance.
“I voted to hire that person based on the recommendation from the hiring committee,” he said before Tuesday’s vote. “I was very excited. My main goal was that we had a lot of healing to do in this community and I have not seen that happen.”
Bowden said that what happened in last week’s executive session was not a formal job performance evaluation that followed guidelines recommended by the Maine Municipal Association or those in the town charter.
“I believe there’s been a major rush to judgment on a popularity contest,” he said. “None of the excellent forms that exist on the MMA website were used to conduct a proper evaluation. The town charter says the evaluation should be based on the town manager’s job description and that wasn’t done.
“What was submitted to us was an evaluation by town employees of their boss,” Bowden said referring to a survey they were asked to complete. “That’s not consistent with what the town charter says.”
The Town Charter, which defines a town manager’s probationary period as six months, states that: “On at least three occasions during any probationary period the board shall meet with the probationary town manager for evaluation of [her] performance measured against the duties of the town manager as set forth in applicable charter and statutory provision, and in any written instructions or job descriptions which have been given by the board to the town manager”.
The board evaluated Gibson once in executive session at the May 13 meeting and “did not evaluate her against any written instructions or job description,” Bowden said Wednesday.
Gibson agreed with Bowden that selectmen violated the Town Charter in firing her and said Wednesday that she was never given written job expectations approved by board members.
“Everything was verbal and done in an atmosphere of a backroom gang-up on me on May 13,” she said. “The majority wanted to fire me then, but they did not terminate me at that time because the town attorney heavily advised against it.”
Gibson said she did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting because she was not feeling well. She said she was informed of her firing by Snell in an email time stamped 9:03 p.m.
Gibson also said that in the evaluation last week she provided selectmen with a list of what she thought she had accomplished in her 60 days on the job, but Bowden was the only one who responded to it.
Curtis was unable to participate in the executive session last week due to illness, Gibson said.
Gibson, who had no prior experience as a municipal employee, was one of two finalists for the job. The hiring committee recommended four candidates to the board, but two candidates withdrew before interviews were scheduled. The names of the other candidates were not made public.
Gibson has a master’s degree in business administration, a master’s degree in elementary education, an undergraduate degree in agronomy from Iowa State University, and she is a licensed Christian Science nurse. Gibson grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Gibson, whose salary was $52,000 a year, signed a six-month contract in late February. Information about whether she was offered a severance package has not been made public.