CHINA — Selectmen are weighing their options for hiring a supervisor for the town transfer station and Public Works Department after the former chairman of the Board of Selectmen was hired for the job in violation of Maine law, then withdrew from it.

The law states that a municipal official cannot be appointed immediately to a paid position that was created during his or her time in office. Town officials and Peter Foote, the former chairman of the board, said they were unaware of the law and that they made an honest mistake. About 30 people turned out to a selectmen’s meeting Monday night, many to voice their opinions that the town had erred in hiring Foote and that the decision was clearly a conflict of interest.

Foote, who decided not to run for re-election this year, said Tuesday that he had no intention of misleading people and that he is disappointed with the treatment he has received since leaving office and giving up the transfer station job earlier this month.

“I just want this whole thing to go away,” he said. “The town manager and the board looked into the Maine Municipal Association’s guidelines for hiring and felt it was OK. That’s why I filled out an application and submitted my resume. I feel like it’s being made into something it’s not.”

Foote, who served on the board for six years, said he already had decided not to run for re-election when he applied for the $49,000-per-year job at the Town Office. He said he abstained from all board decisions regarding the job.

The town does not have a public works director, but it has an increasing need for someone to manage public works, particularly snow plowing, said Joann Austin, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. The need for someone to oversee public works in combination with a long illness suffered by the current supervisor of the transfer station prompted selectmen to create a combined position to oversee the two departments and to advertise for the position in October, she said.

A total of 19 applications were received and nine people were granted interviews, including Foote. Most candidates were interviewed by Town Manager Dan L’Heureux, although L’Heureux said that another town employee who did not work as closely with Foote interviewed him in order to make the interview process more objective.

Foote was offered the job in early November after selectmen approved the decision. Foote was not scheduled to begin work until after he had finished his term on the board, L’Heureux said. He never completed any work for the town and was never paid.

However, public outcry about a conflict of interest prompted the town to re-evaluate its decision and bring the issue to the town attorney, who noted that Maine law prohibits municipal officials from being appointed to paid jobs created while they were in office for at least one year after their term.

“I don’t think the town manager or the Board of Selectmen would have put the town at risk,” Foote said. “Once the controversy escalated, I declined the job. I said that to the town manager and wrote it in a formal letter.”

“We agreed it just wasn’t right, and we didn’t do it,” L’Heureux said. “I think everyone wanted to abide by the rules and the law.” Neither the town nor Foote will face repercussions, since the mistake was recognized and has been corrected, he said.

In general, selectmen are allowed to have paid jobs working for the municipality they serve, although a selectman cannot also be the town manager, said Eric Conrad, director of communication and educational services at the Maine Municipal Association.

“There are parts of Maine that are so rural your available pool of talent is so small that it may require an elected official to also work for the town,” he said. “For example, if a selectman runs a snowplow business, it may be the only one for 50 miles, and it would make sense for the town to hire them.”

Conrad said he could not comment specifically on the China case and that whether a town has its own hiring policy should be evaluated locally.

China does not have such a hiring policy, but the board will seek to develop one as it moves forward with plans to hire a joint supervisor of the Public Works Department and transfer station, Austin and L’Heureux said.

“We’ve gone through the hiring process about six or eight times recently, and this is the only one we’ve had difficulty with,” L’Heureux said. “I think it’s a good time maybe to realize that we should have our own policy we abide by.”

Selectmen are continuing to discuss filling the position at the transfer station and Public Works Department and will either re-advertise for the job or notify the original pool of applicants that the position has been re-opened, Austin said.

“There’s a perception that the board went about this process incorrectly and there was a conflict of interest,” she said. “I don’t think anything like that would happen, and I don’t think it did. It just looked like it.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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