BUCKSPORT — The Town Council voted to fire Town Manager Derik Goodine at a special meeting Tuesday evening, pointing to a clause in his three-year contract that allows councilors to terminate his employment without citing a reason.
The move was not without its dissenters. One disapproving councilor quit his post over the matter, and two residents criticized the decision and the manner in which it was made.
Before announcing they were letting Goodine go, councilors held a brief closed-door executive session. The council also held executive sessions to discuss a “personnel matter” in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s meeting.
The town manager’s dismissal is one of several upheavals in Bucksport in the past year. In December, the local paper mill, which accounted for nearly half of the town’s property tax base, shut down. Several town employees have resigned in the last year, including a finance director and more recently Economic Development Director Dave Milan.
Councilors declined to discuss their reasons for voting 4-2 to terminate Goodine, who was hired in June 2014.
“The Town Council’s job is to hire the town manager, and if the Town Council by a majority is not satisfied or wants to go in a different direction than the current town manager seems to be taking us, we have a right under the employment contract with Mr. Goodine [to] termination without cause. We don’t have to assign a reason,” Councilor David Kee said at the Tuesday meeting.
In an interview last month, Kee praised some of Goodine’s municipal management skills, but said he and other councilors were disappointed with the length of time it took Goodine to prepare a budget for the coming fiscal year.
After the meeting, Goodine declined an interview, saying he needed to speak with his attorney.
When he was interviewed for a separate story a few weeks ago, Goodine said it took him a long time to finish the budget because it was his first year doing so and he wasn’t used to the way it had been compiled in previous years. Another recent challenge for Goodine was setting new sewer rates for residents, since the town is upgrading its sewage treatment plant and the mill closure has meant taxpayers must pay a greater share of the costs.
Goodine previously managed the towns of Naples, Levant and Sangerville. The Bucksport Town Council voted to hire him in 2014, to replace former Town Manager Michael Brennan, who resigned.
Not all of the councilors agreed with Tuesday’s decision.
Kee, Mayor and Council Chairman David Keene and Councilors Peter Stewart and Paul Gauvin voted to dismiss Goodine. Councilors Joseph York and Glenn Findlay voted against the decision.
Councilor Byron Vinton III did not take his seat among the other councilors at the meeting, instead announcing he’d stepped down Aug. 13, following the last regularly scheduled council meeting.
Vinton voiced his opposition to firing Goodine, suggesting it had been the mission of a single official.
“One vindictive councilor has been able to put bull rings in the noses of other council members and is leading them around to tonight’s action,” Vinton said, reading prepared remarks. “You should all be ashamed of what you are about to do.”
Interviewed later, Vinton declined to identify that councilor. He conceded that Goodine had weaknesses as a manager, but stood by him.
“I support Derik,” Vinton said. “He’s human. He has issues. I think he deserved to be able to address them, because I think he has the vision and the foresight to lead this town the way it should be led.”
Vinton quit the council because he didn’t want his name associated with the vote to fire Goodine, he said.
The council has held several closed-door discussions in recent weeks, which are allowed under Maine law to discuss the status of municipal employees.
The secrecy of those sessions drew fire from two residents who spoke Tuesday evening, including Eric “Chewy” Bowden.
“We really need to be informed why [the council voted to terminate Goodine] so we can make conscious decisions that we might agree with you or disagree, but I don’t know what the grounds are for this,” he said.
Bowden also opposed the firing of Goodine, saying “it seems to me he’s been there for us” and declaring the move “premature” given the challenges facing Bucksport.
Responding to those complaints, Kee said, “I understand it seems like it’s very hush hush.”
Kee also disagreed with Vinton’s assessment that councilors have been influenced by a single councilor.
With his own council term ending soon, Kee said afterward, he’ll be running for re-election to fill the remaining year on Vinton’s term.
Another special council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss what the next steps are for hiring a new town manager.