Southwest Harbor Town Manager Justin VanDongen ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Town manager keeps position



SOUTHWEST HARBORTown Manager Justin VanDongen remains in that position following an executive session during a Tuesday night Board of Selectmen meeting to discuss his removal. 

Members of the board met at the town’s fire station on Main Street in person for the first time since March, with Zoom available for people from the public interested in viewing the meeting. 

An agenda item for the meeting was an executive session “pursuant to 1 M.R.S.A. to discuss removal of the town manager.” Board Chairman Kristin Hutchins stated before a motion was made to go into executive session that a member of the board had asked to have the item put on the agenda. 

Selectman George Jellison, who rejoined the board in July, noted that when an executive session is listed as 1 M.R.S.A, it usually is done so without spelling out the personnel issue. In response, Hutchins said it is stated to protect the privacy of the personnel and in this case, “the personnel has no problem with it.” 

“I read freedom of access rules differently than someone else,” said VanDongen in a conversation with the Islander on Wednesday following the meeting.  

Four members of the board were in favor of going into executive session, with newly-elected member Carolyn Ball casting an opposing vote.  

No decision was made during the executive session that lasted close to 15 minutes. The meeting resumed to approve warrants and adjourned shortly after. 

According to VanDongen, who said he has not had an official performance review by the Board of Selectmen before now, he received positive feedback from members of the board in June about his job performance. Two of those reviews were in writing, one from an outgoing member of the board and one who currently sits on the board. A third review was verbal from a sitting member of the board. 

“I’m comfortable with the way the board feels about the job I do,” said VanDongen on Wednesday.  

Authority with hiring and firing the town manager rests with the Board of Selectmen. There are two ways to do so, according to VanDongen. One, as a motion to do so for convenience, which takes a vote of three members in favor, he explained. Two, removing a town manager for cause, or a particularly egregious act, is more of a process that includes proof of any allegations. 

“Protections for municipal employees are pretty strong,” said VanDongen. “I still feel like I have positive reviews.” 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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