Chairman resigns; executive session tonight on personnel issues

Select board concerns roil Rockport leadership

Posted:  Monday, January 7, 2019 - 5:00pm

ROCKPORT — The five-member Rockport Select Board meets this evening for two closed-door sessions, the first to consult with the town attorney, the second to talk about an unidentified personnel issue. The specific topics to be discussed during the dual meetings were not publicly available. 

Complicating the meetings, however, is the Jan. 6 resignation of Select Board member Doug Cole from his role as chairman. Cole announced Sunday in an email to the Select Board, town manager, town attorney, and Courier Publications that he was stepping down from his position.

This leaves Vice Chairman Ken McKinley — former board chairman — to return to the helm. The board consists of Cole, McKinley, Deb Hall, Jeff Hamilton and Mark Kelley.

The leadership change is not the topic of this evening’s meeting, and it is not considered a personnel issue, nor is it on the published agenda, which has already been revised once from being an open workshop to a now-executive session.

The Select Board is an elected body, and its leadership changes are to be discussed and addressed in public session; therefore, the board may have to wait until its regularly scheduled meeting of next week to talk openly about its leadership concerns.

On Monday, Jan. 7, Town Manager Rick Bates informed the town’s department heads that: “Yesterday, Doug decided to resign his position as Chair of the Rockport Select Board, effective immediately.  He sent notice to the press, which will hit the papers soon.  He is not resigning from the board, just as chair.  As vice chairman, Ken will be taking it until the end of the year or until the board decides otherwise.”

On Dec. 27, the town circulated notice of a special Jan. 7 select board meeting with an agenda that included an open workshop with Liller Consulting, the Portland-based company that the town engaged for employee team-building purposes last fall. That was when the Select Board spent almost two hours behind closed doors prior to its regularly scheduled open meeting discussing a personnel issue that no one would publicly discuss.

The board exited that executive session and voted unanimously to have Town Manager Rick Bates hire a consultant to assist with team building.

At that point in time, that particular personnel issue was to cost the town $2,200 with the contracting of a third-party investigator; in this case, the Portland-based firm Troubh Heisler, which had interviewed Rockport employees in August after being requisitioned by Rockport Select Board Chairman Doug Cole in July. That decision followed a July 12 executive meeting for the sole purpose of considering a personnel issue. The terms of the municipal contract with the law firm were made public in late August following two Freedom of Access requests.

Fast forward to January, and all are remaining publicly mum about what comprised the team-building efforts of Liller Consulting but the original Jan. 7 agenda was to include an open discussion about it, followed by an executive session to discuss a personnel issue.

On Dec. 28, this reporter asked the board chairman and administrative secretary (while the town manager was on vacation) via email whether there was a report concerning the Liller efforts, whether the team-building had been completed, what the associated price tag for the town was, and what the activities had been.

The questions were redirected to the town manager, who replied on Jan. 2, saying that they were under review and a response would be forthcoming by Jan. 4.

On Jan. 4, the town manager replied: “In response to your request for information, any written materials produced by Liller Consulting is confidential pursuant to 30-A M.R.S.A. 2702(B)(5) and therefore not a public record. As soon as we receive a final invoice for Liller Consulting Services, I will provide that to you.”

On Sunday, Jan. 6, Chairman Cole announced his resignation to the town via email, saying:

“After having given this a good deal of thought, I have decided to resign effective immediately as chairman of the Rockport Select Board.  Six months ago this board elected me chairman, but over the past several months I feel that I do not have the confidence or the support of the board that I need for me to perform the job effectively.  Because of that, I think it would be best for the town if I stepped aside.  I had considered waiting until June, but it occurred to me that if Ken decides not to run for office again, the new chair would have to get started with no experience. This way we can install one of you as vice chair and I believe my resigning now will allow a smoother transition for the future chair. I do intend to continue in my role as a regular member of the select board.”

As for the municipal board meeting this evening, the agenda has been changed from an open workshop session with Liller Consulting to a closed door meeting with the town attorney concerning personnel issues.

The meeting this evening, Jan. 7, begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Richardson Room at the Rockport Town Office.

Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at; 207-706-6657