Former Rockport Town Manager Robert Peabody Jr. was appointed as interim town manager of Old Orchard Beach March 26 during an emergency special town council meeting, according to Old Orchard Beach Town Councilor Michael Coleman.

He said a 5-2 vote by the town council approved entering into an open-ended contract with Peabody that will pay $1,500 per week and no benefits.

"It's basically until he's not needed," Coleman said.

He said the contract can be terminated without cause and with no notice. Peabody will commute to Old Orchard Beach from his Rockland home, Coleman said.

Old Orchard Beach Town Manager Mark Pearson was terminated by the town council on March 6, according to a Portland Press Herald report. Pearson started his tenure in Old Orchard in February 2012 and was the town's fourth town manager since 2003, according to previously published reports.

Coleman said the town has faced "some challenges but I believe we were addressing them with Mr. Pearson." He said he does not agree with the way Pearson was terminated, nor is he certain moving quickly to hire an interim town manager is the right thing to do.

"I'm very concerned about this, I think we rushed," he said.

Old Orchard Beach has an assistant town manager but she is currently out on medical leave, Coleman said, creating the need for an interim town manager to handle town affairs.

"There are a lot of complications here," he said, adding there still is the possibility Pearson could file a lawsuit against the town. "We're kind of in a pickle."

"We've had quite a bit of turmoil here in Old Orchard Beach," Coleman said, adding he has some concerns about the hiring of Peabody as well. "He was, of the three candidates we interviewed, seemed to be qualified, smooth, polished…I have to do my due diligence and [then] I find things in his background…Mr. Peabody had left Rockport under somewhat of a cloud."

Peabody resigned as Rockport Town Manager in February. Peabody was on a paid leave of absence — though Select Board Chairman William Chapman has declined to say why — between Jan. 29 and his resignation date of Feb. 14.

According to a five-page severance/release agreement, Peabody was paid a lump sum totaling 12 weeks of his regular salary as severance pay in addition to payment for unused sick and vacation time. Peabody was paid a total of $52,836.84.

Since the end of 2012, select board members met more than a half dozen times to discuss two personnel issues brought to their attention by a member, or members, of town staff, according to Chapman.

Chapman previously said he personally received a complaint about Peabody Dec. 28, 2012. Chapman previously said "the nature of the complaint" led it to be submitted to him rather than any other member of town staff.

An executive session Jan. 2 resulted in a select board vote to hire an investigator. Since then, select board members have met in executive session numerous times, including Jan. 22, during which the select board received a verbal report from Drummond Woodsum attorney Melissa Hewey, the investigator tasked with investigating the complaint against a town employee. Chapman said a written report has been submitted but due to the nature of the report — personnel — it will not be made public.

On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Chapman confirmed there also is a second complaint against a town staff member.

"Yes, there is a second complaint but I can't characterize it," he said, adding the separate complaint was not investigated in conjunction with the more publicized one.

Chapman declined to say if both complaints were received during the same period of time or if the two complaints concern the same town staff member.

Prior to becoming town manager in Rockport, Peabody served as part-time town administrator in Hope, according to newspaper archives. He also served three-terms as a city councilor and as mayor of Rockland.

Peabody was hired — by a 3-2 split vote — as town manager in Rockport in March 2004, according to VillageSoup archives. Peabody replaced previous Town Manager Ken Smith.

Peabody's hiring was protested by hundreds of citizens at the time, who petitioned selectmen to begin the process from the beginning and request assistance from Maine Municipal Association. Selectmen Jonathan Duke and Dana Start said at the time they believed the process was flawed, the board didn't negotiate fairly with another candidate and the search should be restarted because the will of the people was demanding it.

In April 2011, select board members voted — again by a 3-2 margin — not to renew Peabody's contract following a motion made by Selectman Dale Landrith, according to VillageSoup archives. The process employed by selectmen at the time was determined illegal and the decision was overturned the following month, according to previously published reports.

A phone message left for Peabody at his residence was not immediately returned.

Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or sgrinnell@courierpublicationsllc.com.