Matthew Townsend, chairman of the Fairfield Town Council, center, listens to state Rep. Shelley Rudnecki speak Wednesday about Fairfield Town Manager Michele Flewelling, left, at a Town Council meeting. Rudnecki requested and later received a copy of the manager’s contract with the town. Screenshot from Crossroads TV video

FAIRFIELD — Long-simmering frustrations with Town Manager Michelle Flewelling boiled over Wednesday when the Town Council heard from a number of exasperated residents who voiced concerns about her leadership and decisions.

Councilors heard concerns about Flewelling’s work ethic and qualifications, the town’s lack of effort in helping the public and businesses, and whether Flewelling’s contract will be renewed for another term. More than a dozen residents joined the at-times tense discussion in-person, with not enough chairs to accommodate everyone, and around 30 people zoomed in remotely. Some residents repeatedly questioned councilors as well, with Chairman Matthew Townsend often having to call for order during the meeting.

Lifelong resident of Fairfield, Penny Harkins, who also owns a saltwater aquarium in Hinckley, said she received no support from the town for her business. She also raised the concern of not having enough room for people in the audience during the council meeting and asked why had the councilors not accommodated the public’s needs.

Fairfield Town Manager Michele Flewelling responds to a speaker Wednesday night during public comment period during the Town Council meeting. Screenshot from Crossroads TV video

“The majority of people in this town have no confidence in some of the people that manage the town,” Harkins said. “If you continue to ignore us … if you want to continue to be against the residents you are serving — remember, serving — we have ways to be able to remedy that.”

Many of the residents who spoke out at Wednesday’s meeting also post on the Facebook group “Fairfield Maine Our Community,” which has lately become the online nexus of concerns about Flewelling and the town government.

In response to the resident’s comments made at the meeting, Flewelling said in an interview Thursday that everyone had a right to express their concerns and voice their opinions. “They can always reach us at the town office for their concerns,” she said.

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The chatter on Facebook, Flewelling said, does not hold much significance to her. “The town of Fairfield does not conduct its business on Facebook and folks are always encouraged to come in or email us,” she said. “We are usually more than happy to sit down with folks and answer their questions.”

The heated debate at the council meeting started during the public comment period with state Rep. Shelley Rudnicki asking councilors for a copy of Flewelling’s contract. Rudnicki later took to Facebook to share screenshots of the contract that outlined Flewelling’s two-year contract, which runs from Dec. 1, 2022, to Dec. 1, 2024, and that as of this month she is paid an annual salary of $102,060.

Sara Tulley, owner of the local food truck Sara’s Cabin, voiced her concerns over the town’s meek involvement in community businesses and activities and urged councilors to increase their participation to accommodate the public’s interests. “We need people that work for the town to help us,” she said. “And we get nothing.”

Tulley also mentioned the complications she faced while trying to set up her food truck business. The town, she said, offered little to no help that made it seem even more challenging to run a business. Her husband, Matt Tulley, also voiced his opinion on the obstructions they faced during the launch of his wife’s food truck, among other things.

Matt Tulley speaks about his concerns with Fairfield Town Manager Michele Flewelling during the public comment period at Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting. Screenshot from Crossroads TV video

“It was obstruction right from the beginning,” he said. “Nobody showed up with a notebook and said, ‘Hey, how can we help you?’ It was negative remarks right from the beginning.”

Matt Tulley claimed Flewelling called police on his sister, who he said she was trimming a tree and picking up nearby drug needles. Townsend said that comment was hearsay unless it was submitted to the town in writing.

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Another resident, Cody Duncan, took the podium and urged the council to be more receptive to the public’s concerns, as they were appointed by the town to serve its residents.

“I would like to please remind you that you are elected representatives,” he said. “It would be nice to be treated with respect as residents of this town that have very valid concerns.”

Some residents also requested the council to take action on the public’s grievances. Some spoke of the disrespect they felt from Flewelling throughout the council meeting.

The size of the crowd, Harkins said, was anticipated before the meeting.

At times, the meeting became tense. One person called the council “hideous” while another questioned the legitimacy of their election as councilors.

Some residents specifically questioned Flewelling about the hiring of the new fire chief, Lt. Travis Leary, who was promoted from within the department as a lieutenant. Some residents suggested the hiring was not transparent and should have been publicly posted.

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Beverly Busque-Mott, a resident and former Fairfield councilor, said “for a good many years, Fairfield has been going down the toilet,” raising concerns about failed businesses and the lack of effort from the town to help support these businesses. She also said she saw “arrogance” and “rudeness” from councilors.

But there was at least one dissenting view. Max Kenny, a lifelong resident who spoke remotely because he had just tested positive for COVID-19, expressed appreciation for the town’s management. Kenny, who graduated from Lawrence High School in 2012, said he’s noticed an uptick in social media concerns in recent months on Facebook.

“The hateful, misleading, one-sided and often flat-out false attacks on our town staff, officials and citizen volunteers, in my opinion, are the wrong way to bring about positive change in the community,” Kenny said over Zoom, encouraging people with concerns to join town committees and make positive change by partnering with the town.

The Fairfield Town Office at 19 Lawrence Ave. in Fairfield is seen Thursday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Townsend told residents at the meeting the council has followed proper procedures in evaluating Flewelling’s performance and would continue to do so under her contract.

“Everyone is allowed to have their opinion but it is equally important to keep things respectful and constructive,” Townsend said Thursday. “It’s difficult at times when there’s emotions involved, but I think we did our best.”

The Town Council will hold its final meeting for the year on Wednesday, Dec. 27.

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