Mayor responds to criticism in city employee payoutCity officials field questions in wake of Community Development Director's departure
Rockland — Mayor Brian Harden issued a statement over the weekend responding to criticism from City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson, who said she is calling for an investigation into the city's agreement to pay a former employee four months salary at the time of the employee's resignation.
In an open email sent to local press Nov. 2, Dickerson put pressure on Harden to investigate why Rockland Community Development Director Audrey Lovering of Standish signed a special resignation agreement with the city Oct. 10, entitling her to four months' salary in return for her promise not to bring claims against the city.
Harden notes in an email he was not directly involved in this personnel matter. City Manager James Smith handled the matter.
So far city officials have not released any information about the dispute that led to Lovering's resignation. Dickerson said in her email she had requested an investigation into the matter nine days earlier.
Harden responded that Dickerson asked a policy question rather than about the specific instance, and accuses her of waging the argument in the press rather than following city procedure.
"Nine days ago you did not send me a request for an investigation into how the city manager had handled the recent personnel matter," Harden wrote in a responding email.
"What you asked me for on 10/24 was a discussion of the process — not a discussion of the city manager," Harden wrote in response. "The process is council policy and as such can be discussed at any time the council wishes to discuss it. You do not need to ask my permission to have a policy discussion, just bring the matter up and the council will either discuss it at the time or decide when and how to talk about it later. I did not reply to your email because you did not ask me to do anything — you just said you want to have a discussion. Period — end of story."
Harden went on to say that it appeared she made her request for an investigation of the city manager's handling of the situation through an article published in Bangor Daily News.
Harden said the request for the investigation should come in the form of a resolve to be put on the agenda and voted on by the city council. He said that could be placed on the agenda for the Nov. 14 meeting and discussed as part of the agenda-setting meeting Monday, Nov. 5.
He also offered a few statements regarding Lovering's departure.
"The facts surrounding this personnel issue were discussed by the city council in an executive session Oct. 10, during an evaluation of the city manager," Harden wrote. "You [Dickerson] chose to leave that executive session early in the period during which the council questioned the city manager about the facts of the case. That questioning was detailed and specific and the city manager explained the facts of the case to the council. At that time, I explained to the council that we could conduct a formal investigation into the matter if that was the wish of the council. No councilor then asked for an investigation. Since Oct. 10, no councilor who was at the executive session has requested an investigation."
He said the council has been cautioned by the city attorney not to disclose information about the personnel matter.
"Lastly, I must say, Lizzie, that I feel it is inappropriate of you to seek political capital in the press in this way by using a personnel matter to seek to tarnish me politically three days before an election in which I am a candidate," Harden said. "...You cannot disclose nor can you force the city council to disclose matters that are protected by law from public disclosure. If you want an investigation into the city manager's conduct, ask for it. If you are not satisfied with the actions of the city manager, ask the council to fire him. But, stop trying to blame me. I was not involved in this personnel matter, and I have behaved as I am required by law."
Dickerson responded Nov. 3, saying, "The residents and press of this city have wanted answers, and they know I made a request into how James Smith conducted this investigation, because it was reported in the press. The public knows that the city has no Human Resources person, and that our city manager is essentially judge and jury in a proceeding with a department head.
"...You [Harden] were on a radio show informing the populace that I had made 'another kind of request' for an investigation, (ostensibly other than the one I was supposed to make), but not once did you pick up the phone or send me an email asking for clarification in the subsequent nine days to which I sent the request," she continued.
"The people of this city are on the hook for a sum of money larger than $20,000, plus health insurance through January for a city employee who received a settlement agreement," Dickerson wrote. "...Perhaps rather than worrying about your own re-election, you might consider the mil rate that our residents are paying and the fact that many are struggling to stay in their homes as a result. I would imagine that your voters would want to know that you also are concerned about how the city manager handled this matter, and whether he did so for just cause and whether he did so in a way that was procedurally correct. Rather than worrying about the grammatical structure of my request, perhaps you might consider listening to the people of this city's cries for governmental transparency."
City Manager James Smith said Oct. 19, that he cannot talk about the issue because it is a personnel matter. He said the last day Lovering worked at city hall was Oct. 1.
Lovering agreed to resign effective Oct. 10. As part of the deal, the city agrees to pay her a lump sum of $21,667 to resolve a dispute, which is not elaborated on in the agreement document provided by the city. The city also agrees to pay Lovering's attorneys Kelly and Collins $2,000 in fees and expenses.
As part of the agreement Lovering agreed not to say anything bad about the city or city employees. For its part, the city agrees to state only her dates of employment, her salary, title and that she resigned should it be contacted for a reference from another employer.
Courier Publications News Editor Dan Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at email@example.com.