A co-owner of a century-old wood products manufacturer and one of the biggest employers in central Maine has sued to dissolve a business partnership with his cousin, saying the two men have not spoken in almost two years and are deadlocked on key decisions for the company.

Timothy Templet of Cumberland claims in his lawsuit that business partner John Cartwright has obstructed attempts to modernize and sell Hardwood Products Co. of Guilford, which also owns Puritan Medical Products Co.

The company has 550 workers, generates $55 million in annual revenue and is financially stable, according to a legal complaint Templet filed in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland on Wednesday.

Hardwood is the largest employer in Piscataquis County and is a world-recognized manufacturer of ice cream sticks, toothpicks, swabs, tongue depressors and other wooden food and medical supplies. It has been making white birch products in Guilford since 1920.

The complaint says Templet wants the company to stay successful and profitable, but he needs to sort out an ownership arrangement that no longer works. The ownership dispute should not be allowed to affect normal business for customers and employees, it says.

“The businesses continue to function, but are handicapped by the deadlock,” the complaint says. “Absent prompt judicial intervention to secure new ownership that is able to make decisions and move these businesses forward, the future is at risk.”

Templet and Cartwright have joint decision-making power in their business partnership but have disagreed for years on key issues, the lawsuit alleges.

Templet wants to increase wages, invest in new machinery and upgrade information technology, it says, adding that he also favored selling the company to an investment group that pledged to keep work in Guilford for years.

Cartwright has opposed all of those suggestions, the lawsuit alleges. The partnership, which is governed by four general partners and controlled evenly by the two men as their representatives, used to meet regularly to approve budgets, salary increases and capital spending, it says.

They have not met since Cartwright walked out of a meeting in May 2018, according to the complaint.

“Cartwright and Templet no longer speak, no longer make joint decisions, and are essentially unable even to be in the same room together,” it says.

Reached Thursday at the office of another business he owns in Guilford, Cartwright declined to answer questions about the case and his relationship with Templet.

“I’m not going to comment on it,” he said.

To resolve the problem, Templet has asked the court to step in, dissolve the partnership and assign the company’s general manager and chief operating officer as custodian to keep the business running until it can litigate a new ownership arrangement.

Under Maine law, a court may terminate a limited partnership if it is not reasonable to practically carry on its activities under the business agreement.

Sigmund Schutz, Templet’s attorney, said there are a number of ways the case could play out. Schutz, who also represents the Portland Press Herald on First Amendment issues, said one party could buy out the other, the entire business could be sold to a new owner or the two components of the company – medical products and food-related products – each could be spun off into its own distinct entity.

“Broadly, it is sort of an ownership divorce,” he said. “Will some of the owners now be owners in the future? Will all the owners be selling? There are a lot of options. One of the more straightforward ways is that the business is marketed for sale.”

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