Ernie Rice once again is quiting the Belgrade Board of Selectpersons — and this time the board has accepted his resignation, which is effective March 18.

Rice cites both concerns about his health as well as “unacceptable actions” on the part of the town manager in his resignation letter. Rice also says, “the Select Board has ignored its charge to make sure established policies are followed. I have been totally loyal to the taxpayers and ignoring policies (by-laws) is simply unacceptable.”

The tumultuous resignation comes amid strong disagreement in Belgrade about not just municipal spending and policies but also the town’s relationship to the school district.

Rice was one of the leaders of the unsuccessful movement to begin the process of withdrawal from Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, the Messalonskee schools. The withdrawal proposal was rejected 692-400 at the polls in November.

While Rice’s resignation is dated Jan. 10, it was accepted 3-1-1 at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, with Rick Damren opposed and Rice himself abstaining. There was no discussion.

Rice, 72, resigned at the board meeting on Dec. 13, 2017, during a discussion involving town employee health benefits; but the board took no action on his hastily written note he left before abruptly leaving the meeting. He rescinded it six days later, saying people had asked him to remain.

Board Chairman Gary Mahler said nomination papers would be available to fill Rice’s seat starting Thursday. They must be returned to the Town Office — with a minimum of 25 signatures of registered voters — by 4:30 p.m. Jan. 30.

Rice has one year remaining in his term. He has been on the board for eight years. “I put it out to the end of Town Meeting because I want to complete eight years.” Rice said Wednesday afternoon.

Rice also said actions of Town Manager Dennis Keschl of which he disapproves include Keschl’s initial budget proposal for 100 percent town-paid health insurance benefits for full-time employees. Rice said the town policy was for the cost to be split 80-20 between the town and each employee.

“Only the select board can change policy, so we should have had a heads-up that he was going to recommend 100 percent,” Rice said Wednesday.

Rice noted that Keschl apologized for that.

Rice also said that the proposal to make the library director’s post a full-time one should have come directly to the board rather than the town manager.

“The select board runs the town, and all these things need to come to select board to be analyzed, and not thrown at us at budget time,” Rice said. “I am concerned the select board is not fulfilling its responsibilities. I’ve had enough.”

On Wednesday, Mahler defended Keschl. “I think the town manager is the best we’ve had since I’ve lived in Belgrade. He’s the most organized, most knowledgeable, most capable. He knows the town system. He knows the state system. It’s just a plus to have him as town manager.”

Keschl was Belgrade’s town manager from 2006 to 2010 before being elected to the Legislature, where he served two terms in the House from 2010 to 2014.

Two other seats are open on the town’s select board, and two people had filed nominating papers to run prior to the deadline.

Mahler, who has served three years on the board, said Thursday he is not running again.

Ernst Merkens, who was elected to complete the final year of a three year-term, has submitted papers to run for a full three-year term.

Kathi Wall, who has headed the town’s Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, has filed papers to run for a three-year term as well.

Incumbent Road Commissioner Maurice Childs is seeking re-election to the one-year term and is being challenged by Kevin Hawes, who has been road commissioner in the past.

Voting for officials and several secret-ballot items will be held March 16 as part of Town Meeting, which continues at 1 p.m. March 17 at the Center for All Seasons.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

 

filed under: