A town sign greets motorists as they enter Pittsfield in this Nov. 2, 2020, file photo. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

PITTSFIELD, Maine — A Pittsfield town councilor called for the town manager’s resignation Tuesday during a regular council meeting, citing “improper, unprofessional and inflammatory” behavior.

The alleged behavior took place during an earlier October meeting, in which Town Manager Kathryn Ruth provided clarity on the labor negotiation process involving the police department.

Across Maine, town councils and select boards are wrestling with how to efficiently run municipalities and strengthen their communities. That task has proved more challenging with heated politics and opinions dividing local governments. Pittsfield dealt with this Tuesday, when Councilor Michael Cianchette clashed with Mayor Heather Donahue, who fiercely defended the town manager.

During his closing remarks, Cianchette said Ruth strayed from the typical format of the Town Manager’s Report section of the Oct. 5 meeting “to give her unchallenged opinion on the topic.”

Her report went “off script” to “rehash the previous issues that the chief of police and the police department experienced with the town manager and the labor negotiating committee while trying to establish extra benefits to attract potential new officers,” Cianchette said.

The councilor argued the town needs a leader who communicates clearly; deserves, gives and commands respect; and works without bias with all personnel in the town.

“In my opinion, the current town manager reflects none of these characteristics and no longer has the trust or respect of the citizens of Pittsfield,” he said. “It is also my opinion that for the town of Pittsfield to grow and prosper once again, shall I say to make Pittsfield great again like it once was, that there needs to be a change of leadership.”

Cianchette then recommended that Ruth submit her resignation and encouraged the Town Council to take action, providing four options including censure, more frequent evaluations with measurable goals, counseling and termination.

Donahue, who attended the Tuesday meeting remotely, disagreed with Cianchette, noting the town manager was correcting inaccurate information discussed during previous meetings.

As a representative of the town, Ruth has the responsibility to make sure reliable information gets to the general public. In two days, Ruth fielded 27 phone calls from residents confused about the labor negotiations, Donahue said.

“I have serious concerns regarding remarks made by employees as well as councilors characterizing those actions of the labor negotiations committee as well as the town manager and grossly mischaracterizing the abilities of the town manager to make decisions,” she said.

If town employees have a serious grievance, they should follow the process outlined in their personnel handbook, Donahue added. Airing complaints about a department head at a public meeting was unethical and reflects poorly on the town, she said.

“It’s very disturbing to have a councilor openly call for the resignation of an employee, no matter who that employee is, and basically conduct an open evaluation of that employee’s performance in an open meeting,” she said. “It’s entirely inappropriate, in my opinion.”

The mayor highlighted that there is a process to evaluate the town manager, which was revamped last year when Cianchette was not on the Town Council. She wished for Cianchette to “gain a better understanding” as the council prepares for the evaluation process.

Ruth said Wednesday she is still shocked about Ciachette’s statement.

The town manager defended her actions, saying that quoting the town code and regulations the town must follow in police labor negotiations, along with the legal opinion that the town received, was not a personal opinion.

Providing a timeline of meetings that addressed recruitment to fill three vacancies at the police department and the amount of funds approved by the Town Council was also not an opinion, she said.

“There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation on this subject. I was complimented on precisely reporting on a subject so that people could understand the process and thanked for doing so. I will continue to report on town matters as necessary.”