Wednesday, March 12, 2014
NORRIDGEWOCK -- A fired town worker was elected this week to be a selectman, but she will not officially serve until the board can resolve a problem of unpaid sewer bills.
Charlotte Curtis sat at the table with other newly elected selectmen at their regular meeting Wednesday night attended by about 30 residents, but she was not allowed to vote.
Whether she will be sworn in to the position will be determined after the four other selectmen gather legal advice in the coming days.
In her previous elected town treasurer position, Curtis did not collect complete payment on all overdue sewer accounts. The unpaid bills are considered unfinished business with the town because she remains responsible for seeing that they are collected until someone else accepts the responsibility.
Town Manager Michelle Flewelling told the board Wednesday that the law does not allow a person to serve in the capacity of both treasurer and selectman and that, once a person has made a commitment to bring in the amount owed, "by law you are personally responsible for its collection."
Selectmen can release Curtis from her obligation to collect the money, but they must have another treasurer to whom they can commit the responsibility.
Acting Treasurer Peter Lyman said he would take on some of the unpaid accounts but not the ones that are more than a year old. After a year, the treasurer is legally no longer able to place a lien on the accounts, which would guarantee payment.
Curtis said at the meeting that when she was treasurer she purposely did not record a lien on some unpaid accounts because she did not want someone's home to be foreclosed on because of a sewer bill.
There is about $29,000 in unpaid sewer bills, according to town records. Of that, about $10,000 is more than a year overdue.
Selectman Sallie Wilder asked Curtis how she decided who could pay and who couldn't.
Curtis responded that if people couldn't pay their sewer bill, she sent a letter telling them to come to her to arrange a payment plan. Most people paid over time, but some didn't.
"It's a slap in the face to the residents of the town that pay," Wilder said.
Selectman Matt Everett said if the town lets some people off the hook with their bills, more will follow.
"My biggest concern is making sure these people pay," he said.
Resident Diane Gogan spoke in defense of Curtis.
"She's being singled out," she said. "The townspeople have voted for her."
Resident Etta Tappan said Curtis deserved recognition for her many years of work. She was the town's office clerk for 23 years and the elected town clerk and treasurer for 21 years.
"She put in over 20 years here, and I just want to say thanks," Tappan said.
Flewelling fired Curtis from her 40-hour-per-week job as office clerk in January for secretly making audio recordings at the front desk. Curtis has said she was not recording the public.
Curtis legally could not be fired from her town clerk and treasurer positions, though, because as an elected official she answered to the people of Norridgewock, not the town manager, sewer commissioners or selectmen.
She retained the town clerk and treasurer positions until Monday's elections.
Although Sharon Dodge, who works 40 hours per week as an office clerk in the Town Office, was elected town clerk and treasurer on Monday, she resigned from the positions Tuesday because of changes made Feb. 15 to the union contract that prevent people from working both elected and union positions, she said.
If she hadn't given up the town clerk and treasurer duties, she would have been forced to forfeit her full-time job.
Following town and state guidelines, as outlined in the Maine Municipal Association's tax collector and treasurer manual, Flewelling appointed Lyman to fill the treasurer position. The town clerk position remains vacant.
Erin Rhoda -- 612-2368