The Orrington Board of Selectmen meets Feb. 5 at the Orrington town office. Credit: Gabor Degre

Orrington selectmen Monday night hired a Levant farmer as town manager and collectively breathed a sigh of relief when a group of residents dropped their effort to recall two selectmen.

Joan Gibson, 58, signed a six-month contract to serve as town manager beginning March 11. She and her husband, Brian Call, own and operate Milky Way Organic Farm.

The selectmen voted unanimously to hire Gibson, whose salary will be $52,000 a year. Her contract doesn’t specify a change in salary after the six-month probationary period, but that is a possibility depending on her performance, according to Town Clerk Susan Carson. She will be able to use the municipal vehicle to drive to and from work and to conduct any town business, Carson said.

Gibson will step into a town that has been deeply divided over a proposal to build a public safety building that would house the fire and police departments together, where an effort to recall two selectmen was underway, and where two town managers quit six months apart citing conflicts with selectmen.

On Monday night, Michelle Harmon, organizer of the recall petition drive that targeted Selectmen Keith Bowden and Michael Curtis, announced that she and four others had dropped the effort so the community could heal.

“The goal is to stop the bleeding and not to keep picking at scabs,” she told the board and the 25 residents in the audience. “The goal has never been punitive.”

Harmon, who left the meeting immediately after announcing an end to the recall for a family emergency, said the group was encouraged after meeting with Curtis and planned to meet with Bowden to work out their differences.

Harmon and four other residents launched the recall effort after the town’s former interim manager, Andrew Fish, quit Jan. 29, citing conflicts with two selectmen in his resignation letter. He was hired as finance director in neighboring Holden the same day, a fact he did not mention in his resignation letter.

The recall petitions cited Bowden and Curtis’ perceived opposition to the proposed $3.5 million public safety building that voters rejected in a 255-234 vote Dec. 4.

In an effort to quell the controversy, Bowden stepped aside as board chairman at a special meeting Feb. 5. Selectman Allan Snell replaced him as chairman.

Gibson, who has no experience as a municipal employee, was one of two finalists for the job. The hiring committee recommended four candidates to the board, but two candidates withdrew before interviews were scheduled. The names of the other candidates were not made public.

She has a master’s degree in business administration, a master’s degree in elementary education, an undergraduate degree in agronomy from Iowa State University, and she is a licensed Christian Science nurse. Gibson grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Gibson was the top choice of the committee that screened candidates, Chairman Peter Schleck said.

“What may serve Joan best is her calm, confident manner,” he said. “We are a town that needs to heal a bit after some recent public controversy, including with respect to the closely divided vote on the public safety building proposal.”

Gibson said she was excited about the job and the “spirit” in Orrington. She was not put off by the recent controversies in town.

“Out of conflict comes lot of progress,” she said. “It’s kind of like cooking. It’s messy but in the end you have some great food to eat.”

Schleck said he was confident Gibson has the right personality for the job.

“Joan strikes me as someone who will be as comfortable discussing a downed mailbox with a concerned citizen as she will be in understanding and applying Municipal Tax Increment Financing,” Schleck said.