MECHANIC FALLS — During a heated meeting at the Town Office on Tuesday morning, town councilors refused to release details on the firing of former Town Manager Zakk Maher,  other than to say there was “basically a lack of communication with the council.”

The standing-room-only crowd strongly criticized councilors on several fronts, including holding a meeting of such high public interest at 9 a.m. on a weekday.

“Scheduling this time of day with most of the people working and can’t attend” was wrong, resident Milton Walker said.

There were strong notes of support for Maher among residents during the hourlong meeting.

“I’m disappointed that in this town we had somebody that would work for the citizens, was kind and good to the citizens,” resident Cathy Pressy said. “If there was a personality clash, you didn’t give him much of a chance.”

Resident Tom Webster told councilors: “I think we’re making a big mistake here. I think we ought to recall Zakk as town manager. Give him a chance. He’s a young fellow. I think he’s going in the right direction. Maybe some of you are going backward. Not him.”

Roger Guptill, a former town councilor, asked whether the town might need to recall the councilors.

“It seems like we’re losing a lot of good people,” he said. “The town is starting to slide back instead of going forward. Maybe you guys need to sit back and think about what’s going on in this town.”

Fred Collins, right, the acting town manager in Mechanic Falls, listens to the angry crowd during Tuesday morning’s special meeting at the Town Office. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Maher was fired June 17 following an executive session of the Town Council. According to Chairman Cathy Fifield, it was the only executive session the council held on Maher’s job status.

Three days later, Town Clerk Miranda Hinkley resigned, saying she thought the town was going in a direction she did not want to be part of. She gave two weeks’ notice but was escorted from the Town Office by police when she showed up for work Monday, and will not be allowed to serve out that notice.

Tuesday’s special meeting was scheduled to appoint an interim town manager and clerk, but the discussion stayed focused on why Maher was fired.

The “lack of communication” issue was as far as Fifield would go in terms of explanation.

Maher was dismissed by a vote of 4-1, with Councilors Fifield, Wayne Hackett, Nick Konstantoulakis and newly elected Councilor John Emery voting in favor of dismissal. Councilor Kieth Bennett opposed the decision.

On Tuesday, Emery disclosed he had planned to abstain from the vote because “being new to this, I did not understand parliamentary procedure.”

But, he said: “I was encouraged that I should not abstain. I voted yes after coming out of executive session.”

Emery said the town comes first. And when the board makes a decision, he said, “we can look at it in different ways, but you don’t accomplish things by division.”

The council voted Tuesday to send a resolution letter to Maher that explains his dismissal. Emery abstained from that vote.

According to state law, if disciplinary action is taken against a public employee, a final written decision of that action is required, and it “must state the conduct or other facts on the basis of which disciplinary action is being imposed, and the conclusions of the acting authority as to the reasons for that action.”

Councilors refused to make the contents of the letter public until it has been sent to Maher. They are scheduled to take up the issue July 8 of whether to make it public.

Milton Walker, a resident of Mechanic Falls, addresses town councilors at Tuesday morning’s special meeting in the Town Hall. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Several residents objected to the reasoning for withholding the information.

Paul Harvey asked: “Why don’t you let Cathy (Fifield) read it to us? We are the taxpayers in town. We want to know what happened to Zakk and why. We have the right to know.”

If councilors were not going to divulge the contents of the letter, Pressy asked, “Why is the letter on the agenda?”

Hackett said the letter had to be on the agenda so the council could vote on its acceptance and sign it before sending it to Maher.

“So what’s the sense of having this meeting, then, if we can’t discuss what was going on?” resident Webster said.

“If the town attorney says we can, we will,” Fifield said.

The attorney’s absence at the meeting was questioned by resident Norma Crabtree, because there were so many questions to be answered.

The Sun Journal has since filed a request for the dismissal letter under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, which defines final disciplinary records as public documents.

The council voted to appoint Fred Collins interim town manager and Julie Ward interim town clerk.

A special meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 8, at a location to be determined, to begin the search for a new town manager and clerk.

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