FAIRFIELD — Michelle Flewelling, Norridgewock’s embattled town manager, has been offered the same post in neighboring Fairfield, where the Town Council chairman said recent controversy surrounding Flewelling doesn’t bother him.

Chairman Robert Sezak said Thursday that the council voted unanimously Wednesday night to offer Flewelling an employment contract and she accepted the offer.

“Their economic development program was the main attraction,” Flewelling said Thursday. “They’re a larger community and a larger staff and closer to home.”

Flewelling, who lives in Clinton, said recent controversies in Norridgewock did not play into her decision to leave after seven years working there.

In recent weeks, a petition has circulated asking the town’s Board of Selectmen not to renew Flewelling’s contract. The petition follows two incidents at meetings of the town’s sewer commissioners in which Flewelling was singled out by commissioners — once in an attempt to hold an illegal executive session to discuss her performance and once when she was prohibited from speaking during a meeting.

On Thursday, Sezak brushed aside any concerns about the controversies: “That reflects on Norridgewock. It doesn’t reflect on Michelle.”

Flewelling will replace former Town Manager Josh Reny, who resigned in August to take the assistant city manager position in South Portland.

Her contract is for 25 months and she will make an annual salary of $65,000 plus benefits, the same amount Reny made at the time of his departure. In Norridgewock, Flewelling was paid $58,600, including benefits.

She is scheduled to begin working in Fairfield starting Dec. 1 and said the two towns will be “working on a transition, so to basically share me between the two places until the final transition and Norridgewock finds a replacement.”

Sezak said the Fairfield council interviewed a number of qualified candidates for the position, but Flewelling emerged as the council’s preferred choice.

“When we came right down to it, Michelle was the top contender,” Sezak said. Flewelling already serves on a number of the same regional boards and committees that Reny did and should take the reins in Fairfield smoothly, Sezak added. He said the council has heard positive feedback about its choice from residents and people in the wider community.

“We feel she’ll move right into the position fairly seamlessly,” Sezak said.

Flewelling was first hired as town manager in Norridgewock in 2008 and worked at a variety of jobs in the Clinton Town Office before that, including as town clerk and office manager.

As town manager in Norridgewock, Flewelling oversaw a new three-bay addition at the town’s public works garage; the creation of a tax-increment financing district, or TIF, around a recently built natural gas pipeline; helped create and plan annual budgets; and worked on plans for the construction of a fire station, scheduled to be completed around November.

Chairman of the Norridgewock Board of Selectmen Ron Frederick said that over the last seven years, the town budget has not increased at all, “and yet we’ve been able to get a lot done.”

“I think that needs to be noted,” he said. “We have a new garage. We’re working on a new fire station. We’ve gotten several grants at the airport that she’s helped us with.”

During her tenure, Flewelling also was involved in the controversial ouster of office clerk Charlotte Curtis, who was caught making secret audio recordings of conversations at the Town Office front desk. Curtis filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, claiming the town had discriminated against her because of her age, but the commission found that her complaint was unfounded.

Some residents expressed support for Curtis at the time of the firing, and she continues to hold several elective positions. Curtis, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, is on the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, the Budget Committee and the sewer commissioners.

Members of the Board of Selectmen said Flewelling will be hard to replace. The board will be discussing the search for a new town manager at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

“I was pretty shocked to hear of her leaving,” Frederick said. “It’s nothing we had planned for or pushed her to do, and I think the majority of the board hates to see her leave.”

In reacting to the statement made by Sezak, the Fairfield council chairman, about the recent controversies reflecting poorly on Norridgewock and not on Flewelling, Selectwoman Sallie Wilder said she had to agree with him.

“I thought that was a very good comment to make,” she said, adding that she doesn’t think the petition calling for Flewelling’s ouster reflects the opinions of most Norridgewock residents.

The petition was in at least three stores this week, but employees said they either did not know or could not say who had created it. A woman who worked at Triple D Redemption — where the petition had garnered more than 60 signatures — said she knew the man who had started it, but when she called him on the phone, he declined to speak with a reporter about why it was started.

“I thought it was interesting people wouldn’t comment on it, and some people signed it and had no clue who put it out,” Wilder said. “There was nobody’s name on it and you had no idea where it was coming from. It’s just typical small-minded, petty stuff.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm

 

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

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Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire