THORNDIKE — One of the Waldo County officials whose name appears on a letter that led to the mass resignation of all but one Thorndike firefighter is now claiming the memo was signed without his consent.

Owen Smith, director of the Waldo County Regional Communications Center, sent a follow-up note to the Select Board saying he does not agree with the concerns the first letter raised about former deputy fire chief George Russell.

“I am writing to assure you that I had no knowledge of the letter that you received from the County Fire Chiefs’ Association and the Fire Fighters Association until I was told about it on Tuesday of this week,” he wrote in the note dated Feb. 22. “I/we had no knowledge of this action and do not support it. We will continue to respond to calls in the Town of Thorndike as your response plans dictate.”

The document to which Smith refers, which was sent to Thorndike officials on Jan. 23, said that Russell had endangered the lives of other firefighters through poor leadership skills and a lack of training. It ultimately led to Russell’s resignation, along with the departure of chief Bill Isbister and 27 volunteer firefighters who were upset that the selectmen did not support Russell through the controversy.

New Thorndike Fire Chief John Levers, inside the department building on Tuesday, said he supports the ordinance to create a municipal fire department to replace the current organization, an issue that will be discussed and voted on this Saturday at the annual Town Meeting. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The town has since tapped a new chief, John Levers, and assistant chief, Reggie Cunningham, to lead the volunteer fire company. At least three other people have joined the department since firefighter and emergency medical technician Lauren Carter stood up at a Feb. 20 select board meeting as the only one willing to continue to serve Thorndike after Russell was forced out. At the annual Town Meeting on Saturday, residents will vote on whether to form a municipal fire department with more oversight from the town’s governing body.

Thorndike selectmen read Smith’s letter aloud during their last meeting on March 6.

Second Selectman Bob Carter said the new information does not change the way he feels about the situation.

“It’s nothing to us,” Carter said. “(Smith) just stated that he had nothing to do with it. There are still three others with entities that are pretty crucial in our decision making and that we kind of have to respect.”

The January letter is signed, “Respectfully,” then lists the following names, in order: Ken Clements, president of the Waldo County Firefighters Association; Bill Gillespie, president of the Waldo County Fire Chiefs Association; Dale Rowley, director of the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency; and Smith. Each of the names is typewritten, a point Smith made in his response letter.

“I think that you all realize that a ‘type written’ signature bears no weight if not signed by the person,” he wrote. Smith included a hand-drawn cursive signature at the bottom of his Feb. 22 note.

Smith said he found out about the letter on Feb. 19 after one of his supervisors confronted him about it.

“I said, ‘What letter?'” he said. “To say I was not very happy is putting it mildly. … This is not the way I do business personally or as the director of the Waldo County Communications Center.”

It is not fully clear how the letter from Waldo County officials was written. Smith said that members of the Waldo County Regional Communications Advisory Board had raised issues with the Thorndike Fire Department in at least one meeting but never discussed sending any document to Thorndike. Clements, Gillespie, Rowley and Smith all sit on that advisory board, along with a handful of other emergency service officials including Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton and Belfast Police Chief Michael McFadden.

“During meetings of the advisory board, we talk about problems we encounter with agencies,” Smith said. “Have there been problems with the Thorndike Fire Department? Yes. But there was no authorization by the board to send this letter to the town of Thorndike, and certainly not to personalize it.”

Rowley said that “Gillespie is the one that drafted it” and noted that he discussed its contents with Gillespie in person but did not remember if he agreed to put his name on it.

“That’s kind of hard to describe,” Rowley said in response to a question on how his name made it onto the document that was sent to Thorndike officials. “I had read the letter and I supported that it be sent to the selectmen of the town, (but I was) hoping that it would be dealt with as an employee issue (in executive session).”

Gillespie declined to answer questions about the process of drafting the letter, who helped him with the language and whether he reached out directly to Smith before adding him as a signatory.

“I have no comment,” Gillespie said. “I’m not digging any more into it. I’ve read your story, and there’s no more comment for me. The process has taken place.”

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239
[email protected]
Twitter: @megrobbins

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