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Resignation letters reveal clerks felt disrespected, micromanaged

Fight stemmed from election counting problem in July
By Daniel Dunkle | Nov 16, 2020

Appleton — Two long-time Appleton Town Office employees cited feeling disrespected and micromanaged among other complaints in their resignation letters.

Friction between the departing town clerks and the Select Board seemed to start after an error was found in the vote count in the July primary election, due to a mistake in how the ballot machines were programmed by an outside firm.

Town Clerk Pamela Smith and Deputy Town Clerk Rebecca Hughes both turned in their resignation letters Oct. 22, giving notice that Nov. 5 would be their last day. The two wanted to help with the Nov. 3 election before leaving their positions. Smith worked for the town for 29 years and Hughes for 22.

The Camden Herald requested the letters Nov. 12, and Select Board Chairman John Fenner said he would not release the documents until he received approval from Maine Municipal Association legal.

The Camden Herald followed up with an official request for documents under the Maine Freedom of Access Act Nov. 13 and received them from the town Nov. 16.

“After 29 years of dedicated service to the wonderful residents of this amazing small town, it saddens me to feel I have no other options than to resign my many jobs with the Town of Appleton effective Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, 4:00 P.M.,” Smith wrote.

“I can no longer experience the lack of respect as a tenured employee by the current Board of Selectmen. I am overwhelmed by the daily micromanagement of all my jobs, especially elections, I have executed for the past 29 years. It is only the people who do no work that don’t make any mistakes. This has created a hostile, uptight, unpleasant, unhealthy work environment and a very uncomfortable place to work.”

“It has truly been a great pleasure to serve the residents of the Town of Appleton. Thank you. You have all made it a blessed learning journey,” Smith concluded.

Hughes acknowledges the mistake in testing the municipal ballot July because a “stick” used on the ballot machine was not programmed correctly, and the clerks did not catch it.

“We had never tried doing this type of ballot before and we were in a situation with the virus that we have never been in before, however the error did not cause the results of the election to change. On and off for the last three months we have been treated as if we have no idea what we are doing in jobs that we have held for 22 and 29 years respectively.

"This has created a stressful environment to work in and life is too short. Apparently you have never made a mistake, hopefully you never will. That’s okay though, you have your thoughts and ways of dealing with people, and I personally prefer mine. By the way, respect is always earned and cannot be demanded.”

“In the past, it was a pleasure to work for the Town and it has always been an honor to serve the residents of Appleton.”

Select Board Chairman John Fenner said he did not have a comment on the letters, except that it was an error to say the position was tenured. He said tenure is not something town employees have in Appleton. The positions are appointed.

The issue with the voting in the July 14 election was raised in several Select Board meetings shortly after that election. The Select Board voted unanimously in a special meeting Aug. 20 to issue a press release explaining that despite a voting machine miscount, a recount was not legally possible.

“The Appleton Select Board has determined that a programming error in the ballot machine resulted in a miscount of the votes for the two open seats on the Select Board. All ballots were counted. There is no evidence that any other articles on the ballot were improperly programmed or that those results were wrongly determined. There is also no indication that any other state or local ballot results were incorrect.

“Specifically, the article for election of two Select Board members was programmed by an independent company as ‘vote for one’ rather than ‘vote for two’ as it should have been in keeping with the number of open seats for the July 14 election and as represented on the sample ballot provided to Election Systems & Software of Chicago, Illinois. ES&S has confirmed the programming error and subsequently credited the town the programming fee because of their mistake.

“This programming error was not identified during the testing process that was carried out by the Town Clerk and Deputy Town Clerk.

“After extensive discussions with the Town Attorney, Maine Municipal Association and the Deputy Secretary of State, the Select Board does not have authority to do a recount of the vote and the evidence we have does not point to a change in the result if we did.

“The Appleton Select Board will work with the Town Clerk to ensure a program validation process is in place and properly executed for future elections.

“The Select Board wants to reassure the people of the Town of Appleton that we hold their right to vote and to have their votes counted as our most important duty and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that these processes are done correctly.”

Fenner said in August the issue was brought to the town’s attention after the town received complaints that some of the write-in ballots for selectman were not counted. There were no contested races for the two seats up for election in July.

Select Board Member Lorie Costigan was on the ballot, having taken out nomination papers and was elected to the board.

In addition, Charles Garrigan was elected to the board as a write-in candidate with two votes.

However, Fenner said more than two people reported writing Garrigan’s name in, so the count of two votes from the voting machine was not credible.

Garrigan has been awarded the seat and no one with standing asked for a recount, so there is no issue with him serving on the board, according to Fenner.

Elizabeth Dickerson was appointed as the new town clerk and Langley Willauer was named deputy town clerk Nov. 6.

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Comments (8)
Posted by: Phyllis Adams | Nov 18, 2020 16:15

That's a lot of history, knowledge, and education walking out the door. I don't think most people realize how much is involved in being a town clerk and election official. Not to mention your 'bosses' rotate in and out on a regular basis. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's not. If they have been there for that many years they have been doing something right and will leave big shoes to fill, I'm sure. - Joette DeBlois



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Nov 17, 2020 14:48

Nice memory Crawford !



Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Nov 17, 2020 11:40

They might not want to disrespect Liz Dickerson. I would especially recommend not to throw any hats at her.



Posted by: CATHY TRUEMAN | Nov 17, 2020 11:08

We have always been impressed with these two women, and have enjoyed working with them.  What a loss to the town of Appleton.  This select board has cost the town a lot!



Posted by: KEITH ROSE | Nov 17, 2020 11:00

I was on the Appleton Select Board when we hired Pam, 29 years ago. I had no part in hiring Becky, but, my observations over the years tell me I would have hired her too. While members of the select board have come and gone, these two have been the Appleton Town Office for nearly three decades.

 

Maybe, rather than being scolded for a ballot issue they didn’t create, (and didn’t change the outcome), they should be thanked for hanging in there as long as they did and for keeping the interests of the residents of the Town of Appleton first and foremost on their ‘to do’ list.

 

I, for one, just want to say thanks, to both. Pam, Becky, thank you for your time here. You will be missed.



Posted by: Gary Born | Nov 17, 2020 07:45

Sounds like it's time for a new select board...



Posted by: Shelby Thomas Bates | Nov 17, 2020 06:48

All I know is that whenever I went into the office these women were kind, helpful, and industrious. I will always remember their patience and enthusiasm helping my husband and I complete our marriage certificate at their window. Thank you for welcoming us to Appleton, ladies. I'm glad you're standing up for yourselves - you don't deserve to feel like that. We'll miss you! Thank you!



Posted by: Kevin P Robertson | Nov 16, 2020 20:57

I’ve owned a real estate appraisal business in Knox County for 37 years.  It has been a pleasure working with these ladies, always courteous, very professional.  Good luck in your new careers!



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