Zakk Maher in 2016. Submitted photo

MECHANIC FALLS — The lawyer for Town Manager Zakk Maher said Wednesday he advised town councilors last week their vote to terminate Maher on June 17 was unlawful.

The council did not file a written preliminary resolution with the town clerk stating the specific reasons for the proposed removal and did not deliver a copy of it to Maher within 10 days of the filing, lawyer Adam Lee said. Maher, of Poland, would have had 20 days to reply and request a public hearing, Lee said.

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.”

At a council meeting Tuesday morning at the Municipal Building, more than a week after its vote and amid a standing-room-only crowd asking the reason for Maher’s dismissal, councilors voted to pass a resolution letter to be sent to Maher  explaining their decision. Residents at the meeting asked to have it released to the public, but councilors refused because Maher hadn’t seen it.

The Sun Journal filed a request for a copy under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, which defines final disciplinary records as public documents. In response, John Conway of Linnell, Choate & Webber, the town’s law firm, wrote a letter denying the request.

“I am writing to inform you that there has been no final disciplinary action taken against Mr. Maher and the action by the Town Council is a preliminary resolution regarding an employee matter,” Conway wrote.

The newspaper sent a copy of Conway’s letter to Lee.

“When a council is seeking to terminate a manager for cause,” Lee wrote, “it must file a written preliminary resolution with the Town Clerk stating the specific reasons for the proposed removal. A copy of that resolution shall be delivered to the Manager within 10 days of filing.”

Within 20 days of receiving the resolution, the manager may reply in writing and request a public hearing. If a public hearing is requested, the council “shall hold one at least 10 days but no more than 30 days after the request is filed,” Lee advised.

After the public hearing, or if no request for one is made, the council may adopt or reject the resolution of removal, he wrote.

Lee said he informed town officials June 19, two days after the council’s 4-1 vote to dismiss Maher, that it had violated state law.

Lee said he thought Tuesday’s council meeting “was an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle.”

Lee added: “When we receive (the resolution), we will respond in writing and request a public hearing. While, ultimately, it is neither Zakk’s nor my decision whether the town should withhold the resolution, we see absolutely no reason why this document should not be public. The Freedom of Access Act provides that all proceedings pertaining to the passage of a resolution must be public.”

Lee also addressed an issue raised at Tuesday’s council meeting regarding Maher and a video camera and video of the June 17 meeting.

“Certain Councilors seemed to imply that Zakk took the video camera that he had purchased from discretionary managerial funds,” Lee said. “That is categorically false. The camera is in the possession of the Town, as evidenced by the fact that the sim card that contained video of the meeting on June 17 (which we have requested and have not received) was admitted by Mr. Collins to be in his possession at the June 25 meeting.”

Police Chief Jeff Goss confirmed Tuesday the camera is in the town’s safe.

There was little comment Wednesday from town officials on Maher’s status.

Interim Town Manager Fred Collins said he read Conway’s letter early Wednesday afternoon.

Asked if Maher was dismissed June 17, Collins said, “I wasn’t there.”

Asked what Maher’s current status is, Collins replied: “Suspended? Temporarily relieved?”

He said he is not familiar with legal terms or issues.

Council Chairwoman Cathy Fifield and Vice Chairman Wayne Hackett were also asked to clarify Maher’s status, but neither responded to requests left by voicemail and email Wednesday.


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