BRUNSWICK — Former Town Manager Gary Brown blamed “personality conflicts, as much as anything,” for a recent decision by the Town Council to remove him from his job seven weeks before his resignation was scheduled to take effect.
While Brown declined to say with whom the conflicts arose, during a Feb. 10 council meeting – which one councilor described as fraught with “turmoil” – two councilors who voted against early dismissal accused newly elected Chairman Benet Pols of retaliation against Brown for calling attention to a closed-door meeting Pols held with developers.
During an interview last week, Brown declined to elaborate on the nature of what he perceived to be personality conflicts. He did, however, recall the hastily scheduled special meeting two days before Christmas at which councilors sat with Brown in the Hawthorne School meeting room and – citing a “new direction for the council” – announced that they had accepted his resignation effective “on or before March 31.”
“I shook hands with each of the councilors at the conclusion of that meeting – other than Councilor Pols,” Brown said. “I did not speak to him. My recollection is that he left too quickly to have any conversation.”
Of the “new direction” cited that day as the reason for his exit, Brown laughed.
“I can’t think of a single thing that I didn’t have the full support of the council,” he said. But he added, “There’s been an accumulation of issues that have divided the council, divided the community. The accumulation is probably what made it difficult for me to continue in this role without there being a frictional relationship between the manager and the council.”
Pols gave Brown the option to resign, and then proposed the early departure, The Forecaster reported.
At the Feb. 10 meeting, Pols, Vice Chairwoman Sarah Brayman, Councilor John Perreault and newly elected councilors Jane Millett and Steve Walker voted in favor of the early departure. Former chairwoman Suzan Wilson and councilors Gerald Favreau, John Richardson and David Watson opposed.
Reached Wednesday, Pols declined to comment for this story or to respond to Brown’s comments. Neither Brayman nor Perreault returned calls for comment.
Pols told councilors at the Feb. 10 meeting that he had anticipated “the potential for awkwardness” with Brown as a “lame-duck” manager. Brayman said she contacted Pols about removing Brown early after he reported that renovations on the new town hall would come in $23,000 over budget.
“(Pols) told me he found it was difficult with me being there for him and other councilors to move forward on some of the issues that were going to transcend my departure,” Brown told the BDN. He mentioned the new town office at the McLellan Building and a meeting Pols held with developers over a proposed connector road in the Cook’s Corner area.
Favreau and Watson this week said Pols was clearly determined to remove Brown early. Both councilors, who voted against the early dismissal, said Pols circumvented the severance agreement, which designates former chairwoman Suzan Wilson as the contact for all interaction related to his departure.
“What ticked me off was him not going to the rest of council or going through Suzan,” Favreau said. “As far as I’m concerned, he violated the [agreement] right there.”
“My understanding of the agreement was that if the council was to ask for an earlier departure of Gary Brown, it would have been the result of a major transgression or problem,” Watson said. “And if there was any, there was no discussion of it, no executive session discussing any problem.”
“I expect honest and honorable behavior and in my mind, that did not happen,” he continued. “I don’t think we acted honorably.”
Favreau attributed Brown’s early departure to the meeting with developers, which he and Watson were alerted to by Brown and subsequently attended.
“(Pols) was not happy when he saw us walk into that room … and he went after Gary,” Favreau said.
The events surrounding Brown’s departure don’t bode well for future council action, said Favreau, including the significant decision of hiring a new manager to replace Brown.
Brown was hired as town manager in September 2009 to succeed longtime manager Don Gerrish. A subcommittee including three councilors and residents interviewed consultants, selecting one after two months, and then began a months-long interview process. Eventually, the council voted – and then voted again in September 2009 after the first vote was deemed not public – to hire Brown.
After the council dismissed Brown on Feb. 10, a subcommittee of councilors was appointed to review proposals from consultants to assist them with the town manager selection process.
The personality conflicts cited by Brown extended beyond the town council to local legislators. In 2009, Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, opposed the town council’s bid to have then-Gov. John Baldacci reappoint Brown to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the entity charged with redeveloping Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Two years later, Gerzofsky unsuccessfully proposed legislation that would prevent town officials from serving on the MRRA board.
On Wednesday, Gerzofsky had harsh words for Brown.
“He misled that Town Council so bad, I think they’ll be paying for it for a long time,” Gerzofsky said, although he declined to be specific. “What was he ever right about? And I think the town council is in tight times because of it. I don’t think most of his decisions were very good, and the way he proposed projects and then funded them was difficult at best.”
For his part, Brown, who received a severance package worth more than $54,000, said he hopes to serve again as town manager elsewhere.
“When you’ve done the same thing for 25 years, there’s a comfort level,” said Brown, who previously served as town manager of Topsham, Vassalboro and China. “You know what you can do well.”
“I’d hoped to retire from Brunswick,” he added.
Despite the council division that marked his departure, Brown does not believe Brunswick will have difficulty finding a new manager.
“Brunswick is a very attractive community to people in the profession,” he said. “The issues that have been most difficult over the last four years have been mostly resolved. The new manager won’t have to deal with a new police station, a new recreation center, the (former) Times Record building, the town office or Maine Street Station.
“There are very few town manager jobs that are easy. This one has had its challenges — challenges that are not unique to Brunswick,” Brown said. “On balance, I would say my job here was far more rewarding than it was frustrating.”