Town manager ousted by board

SOUTHWEST HARBOR Selectmen voted in favor of removing Town Manager Justin VanDongen from his position effective Feb. 2 with a vote of 3-2 at their meeting Tuesday night.  

Vice Chairman Chad Terry cited a lack of confidence in VanDongen’s ability to do the job as the reason for the board’s decision following an hour and a half long executive session with an attorney.  

Board of Selectmen members Terry, George Jellison and Allen ‘Snap’ Willey voted in favor of the removal and Chairman Kristin Hutchins and Carolyn Ball voted against it.  

Maine’s statute for removing a town manager from that position states, “The selectmen shall file a written preliminary resolution with the town clerk stating the specific reasons for the proposed removal. A copy of that resolution shall be delivered to the manager within 10 days of filing.” 

When asked the day after the meeting if the board had submitted such a letter, Hutchins said, “We know we have to do it. We have not done it yet.”  

Following the meeting Tuesday evening, Jellison, VanDongen and Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell met to discuss transfer of responsibilities.  

Almost two weeks ago, Lowell submitted her resignation to the town with this Friday slated to be her last day of work. There was no mention of her departure during the Tuesday night meeting. When asked on Wednesday morning if she intended to leave without VanDongen as manager, Lowell said, “It’s in question.” 

When VanDongen was hired in May 2018, he signed a three-year contract with the town. That contract was to go until June of this year.  

“I was not prepared for that vote last night,” Hutchins said Wednesday.  

It is not the first time VanDongen’s job performance has been called into question. A Board of Selectmen agenda for the Aug. 25 meeting listed an executive session “pursuant to 1 M.R.S.A to discuss removal of town manager.” No action was taken at that meeting.  

When asked about the search for a new town manager, Hutchins said, “It’s going to be critically important and, I imagine, a difficult task.” 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

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

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