A workshop June 29 to educate Waldoboro voters had one mission — to clarify that the lone failed budget article is about running the town and not about any personnel issue.

However, the underlying theme of the open forum continually drove home the idea that the failed vote at the polls June 9 was meant to cast doubt on the performance of Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs. The sticking point for many is that a formal performance evaluation has not been done on Briggs, who has been in her position for 16 months, especially following a citizens' petition that was presented to the Board of Selectmen at its Feb. 10 meeting.

Despite repeated explanations that conversation could not be had about an ongoing lawsuit between Town Clerk Linda Perry and the town, attendees demanded answers — which for legal reasons were not divulged. Janette Wheeler told fellow residents to go to Lincoln County Courthouse, like she did, and get a copy of the lawsuit if they want answers.

The workshop stems from the only failed item on the referendum town meeting held June 9 — the 424 to 286 derailment of the budget for the Office of the Town Manager. The Board of Selectmen called the meeting to explain the ramifications of not being able to operate the town office without the money. The board wanted the opportunity to meet with the public to educate them on what the Office of the Town Manager is comprised of and attempt to gather information from the voters on why the article was shot down.

The figure put forth to the voters on the referendum was $136,794 — an increase of $5,800 over last year, and included a 3 percent cost of living raise for the Town Manager, and two other employees among other things. It was explained that it has been the town's practice since the 1980s to budget cost of living raises for all non-union employees based on the average of the cost of living raises for union employees.

The budget in question was recommended by both the Budget Committee 5-3-1 and the Board of Selectmen 3-2. Chairman Jann Minzy told the audience that "because the line item passed it gives the town 3/12 of the budget from last year  — we can operate the Office of the Town Manager until Oct. 1."

Minzy and Briggs went on to list the essential services the town office provides, which would be affected if a budget is not passed.

"I've learned that we need to deal with the issues and not personal agendas," said Ellen Winchenbach, a new member of the Budget Committee. She recommended people listen to all sides of the issues. "There is a lot of misinformation and rumors out there," she added.

What is not addressed on the list is that the Town Manager also serves as the Treasurer, and so bills and paychecks do not necessarily get signed with that position absent from the office, according to Briggs.

Valdemar Skov, budget committee member, said he felt the number the combined committees came up with was an appropriate figure, "and if it was voted down because of a problem with the town manager, that doesn't mean the figure was wrong. I think that if people can see past the personal stuff and look at it as just a financial management number it will pass," he suggested.

Minzy asked Skov, "So you're saying this is what it will cost to run the Office of the Town Manager no matter who sits at the desk?" To which Skov acknowledged, "That's the number we came up with at the meeting."

Several people indicated that the "turmoil" in the town made the budget fail, however Police Chief William Labombarde and EMS Director Richard Lash spoke in support of Briggs.

"I don't see the turmoil," said Labombarde. "We work well together."

"I have not seen anything that would make me believe that she has anything but the best interest of the town in her heart," said Lash, "and I am here every day."

According to Briggs there were no goal-setting opportunities in place when she began her job. The town has begun to put the evaluation process in place after having consulted with a facilitator to develop goals and objectives to be worked on throughout the year, a fact that still had attendees wanting Briggs' evaluation completed prior to another referendum vote on the budget in question.

Minzy reminded the audience that the goal is to get a budget in place for the Office of the Town Manager, and noted there needs to be participation in the process, she urged as did fellow board member Ron Miller.

Seth Hall, chairman of the planning board, said the committees made a positive recommendation. Hall said he felt It is clear the voters punished the town, the select board, and the management of the town.

"I think we should take this very seriously," said Hall, adding, "pulling the plug on the town office is beyond ludicrous. The town has to function."

He compared the way the Board of Selectmen is running things to a "rudderless ship."

"One last recommendation, send a very clear message about this budget and do something unanimous," he concluded.

The next Board of Selectmen's meeting will be Tuesday, July 14 at 6 p.m. Minzy confirmed that a public hearing will be scheduled to discuss the issue and any recommended changes to the budget prior to a referendum vote.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@courierpublicationsllc.com.