Mechanic Falls council solves issue with town manager’s contract
September 9, 2020
MECHANIC FALLS — The Town Council on Tuesday finally resolved the discrepancy between the town manager’s length of contract and the Town Charter.
The charter says the town manager shall serve for a maximum three-year term.
Town Manager Zakk Maher, however, was offered and signed a four-year deal when he was hired in 2018.
Maher had threatened to resign for breach of contract if the council voted to change the length from four years to three to align the contract with the charter.
After postponing a decision last month to consult with the town attorney, the council agreed to dissolve the current contract and offer Maher a new two-year deal. That compromise would keep the town from violating its charter while also honoring the four-year commitment to Maher.
That proposal passed by 3-2 margin with Rose Aikman and Tarsha Downing voting against the motion. Chairman Kieth Bennett, John Emery and Ray Lavoie supported the proposal.
Maher and the council have had a rocky relationship, culminating in the council firing Mahar in June 2019.
Maher, who had completed 10 months of his four-year contract at the time, was reinstated in August after Lee filed suit in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn claiming the council acted in violation of state statutes and the town charter.
Mahar’s attorney said the council “had no basis to terminate him in the first place.” He even filed a letter with the town preserving his right to file a lawsuit over the council’s actions.
Three new members have joined the council since then, with only Bennett and Emery remaining.
Aikman and Downing both spoke of feeling intimidated by the town manager’s threat to sue the town.
“I feel uncomfortable going into that office and talking to Zakk,” Aikman said. “I’m afraid of more litigation.”
In other business, the council received an update from Code Enforcement Officer Alan Plummer and Marcal Mill property owner Scott Ferland of Almighty Waste Inc., on the status of the cleanup of the property Lewiston Street.
The former Marcal Mill was destroyed by fire in 2018.
Plummer reported that the site contains dangerous buildings and has trailers stored on the property, which may be a violation. In his talks with Ferland, the property owner told him he plans to renovate the building closest to the river and repair the roof of another building and clean up some of the debris piles.
Ferland told the council that labor issues caused by COVID-19 were to blame for much of the slow pace of cleaning up the property. He added that he had made some progress in 2019 before the pandemic hit. The trailers, he said, are stored in a parking lot.
“It takes time to clean up a building with that size,” Ferland said.
In another matter, the town received a Keep Maine Healthy grant of $20,900 for COVID-19 expenses, Maher said.
Mahar told the council he had named Michelle Emery as finance director. She is replacing Lisa Prevost, a 25-year employee, who accepted a similar position for the town of Oxford.
The council also accepted and scheduled a public hearing on four ordinance changes suggested by the Planning Board. They include land use policy changes on marijuana, noise, kennels and household waste. The public hearing will be held Oct. 5.