Oct. 23 -- Ogunquit residents have started the process to recall three select board members who voted earlier this month to uphold the termination of the town’s fire chief.
The residents, upset with the board members’ support of Town Manager Patricia Finnigan and her decision to fire Fire Chief Mark O’Brien, want to remove Madeline Mooney, Charles Waite III and Robert Winn from office. It is the first effort to recall town selectmen in a decade, according to a town official.
Mooney, Waite and Winn voted Oct. 9 to uphold Finnigan’s decision following a tense termination appeal hearing that culminated with 200 residents being asked to leave the meeting because some people were shouting comments at selectmen. Selectmen John Daley and Richard Dolliver voted against upholding O’Brien’s termination.
Immediately after the meeting, residents began posting on a Facebook page called “Take Back Ogunquit” about recalling Mooney, Waite and Winn. Resident John Mixon said residents who support of the recall feel the select board members “aren’t doing their jobs” and are upset Mooney, Waite and Winn seem to always support Finnigan. Mixon said he and other residents who support the recall have been unhappy with Finnigan for months, but that came to a head when the board voted to uphold O’Brien’s termination.
“That was the tipping point,” he said. “To me it looks like the town manager wagging the tail of those three selectmen. She says what she wants done and they do it.”
To start the recall process in Ogunquit, residents must submit at least 50 affidavits signed by registered voters stating why they are seeking to remove the elected official from office. After the affidavits are verified, the town clerk issues a recall petition for 30 days. If the petition is signed by 10 percent of the total number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election, the board of selectmen will then schedule a special town meeting for recall votes.
Town Clerk Chris Murphy said she received on Monday 71 affidavits seeking to recall Mooney and 72 affidavits to recall Waite. Mixon said he plans to submit on Tuesday around 70 affidavits seeking to recall Winn from office.
Murphy is in the process of verifying that the affidavits were signed by registered voters and anticipates issuing the petitions this week. She said she is consulting with the town attorney to see if the required number of petition signatures will be based on the 2014 gubernatorial election or the November election because the petitions would be circulating past election day.
Mooney, Waite and Winn could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning.
O’Brien, an Ogunquit native, had been fire chief for the past six years and served as interim town manager for eight months after former town manager Thomas Fortier was placed on leave during a criminal investigation. O’Brien earned just over $90,000 annually as fire chief and oversaw a staff that included eight full-time firefighters, 15 active volunteers and 18 seasonal lifeguards.
O’Brien is still considering whether to pursue legal action in response to his termination.
Finnigan has said she placed O’Brien on paid administrative leave on June 27 after she received multiple complaints that he created a hostile work environment, yelled at employees, behaved erratically and discriminated based on gender. An investigation by a town attorney found no evidence of gender bias on O’Brien’s part, she said.
Finnigan said she still had concerns about O’Brien’s “management ability, judgment and temperament to lead the department” after the investigation and ultimately decided to terminate his employment on Sept. 18.
O’Brien, who says he has never been disciplined during his time with the department, said he was not given an opportunity to address Finnigan’s concerns or make changes to the way he led the department. He said he was shocked by the termination and didn’t know why he was fired until he was interviewed for more than four hours as part of the investigation.
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