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Interim town manager in Maine resigns rather than deal with FOAA requests

By Oliver Jenkins, reporter, Foster’s Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.

BERWICK, Maine – Jim McMahon, former Berwick town manager from 1998-2004 and most recently the town’s interim town manager from June through September, resigned from his position with the town last month due to a Freedom of Access Act request filed by Berwick’s assistant fire chief.

McMahon, who is retired, credited a fondness and affection for the town and its residents as the primary reasons for taking on the interim town manager position this past June. He also told the Board of Selectmen he would run the day-to-day affairs of the town until a new full-time manager was chosen. He made it clear he would not become involved in past conflicts regarding the politics of Berwick.

However, a FOAA request sent to McMahon on Sept. 6 by Gene Libby, an attorney for Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Plante of the Berwick Fire Department, created a circumstance McMahon believed would draw him into current political conflicts had he remained in the position.

The issue involved an incident that occurred at a Board of Selectmen meeting on June 19, 2012. At that time, Chairman Bart Haley said he had received several emails from former firefighters that indicated morale within the Berwick Fire Department was low and leadership within the department poor.

The request filed by Libby to McMahon states, “Please provide any and all emails or other public records related to the Berwick Fire Department received by you at the Board of Selectmen meeting on June 19, 2012.”

The second category of the request asks McMahon to provide any and all public records related to the operation, funding, and management of the Berwick Fire Department, including any emails or other public records involving complaints or morale at the department.

“Please include in your response any and all emails, letters, notes, or correspondence to the Board of Selectmen, town manager, or other town officials with respect to the operation, funding or management of the Berwick Fire Department.”

It also asked for McMahon to include any communications or public records related in any way to Chief Dennis Plante or Assistant Chief Bruce Plante, or any other employee or volunteer of the Berwick Fire Department.

Libby’s request is for the one-year period preceding the date of his Sept. 6 request.

McMahon’s resignation, which was announced on Sept. 9 became effective Sept. 17. In an email to Foster’s McMahon stated, “I made it clear from the start that I would manage the day-to-day affairs of the town but would not allow myself to be drawn into any past or current political conflicts.”

He is fully cooperating with the request for information.

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