WOODLAND, Maine — Residents demanded answers from officials after learning at a selectboard meeting Thursday night their town office had been closed for two weeks amid an ongoing exodus of public employees.
The news came to light at the often tense selectboard meeting during which select board member Thomas Drew threatened repeatedly to walk out over tough questions from residents.
The resignations of two town clerks complicate a routine, state-ordered audit of town finances, which has already revealed some missing public money, according to Drew.
“I’m really concerned about the direction of our community,” resident Peter McCorison said after Thursday’s meeting. Even residents who can’t attend meetings are becoming worried, he said.
Woodland is now the second Aroostook town in recent weeks to close after resignations. Limestone shuttered its office temporarily two weeks ago after both town clerks resigned, and that town’s selectboard voted to close the police department this spring over lack of staff.
The Woodland town office closure means residents cannot pay taxes or access services, and has forced local leaders to delay the town’s annual budget meeting. Newly elected select board member Harold Tardy, who replaced Scott Dow, has been working to bring town business up to date amid allegations the books haven’t been reconciled in a year.
Tardy said the office has been closed since March 16, but no one had publicly announced the closure. The town’s website lists daily hours.
“We’re caught up now, but that could change if we don’t get people [in the office],” Tardy said.
Perham clerk Sue Skidgel has agreed to work in Woodland every Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting April 7. Skidgel will be an interim tax collector/treasurer, Tardy said.
Tardy has returned 75 calls from residents, sorted through paperwork and submitted job advertisements to the local newspaper for open positions. He reached out to potential interim clerks to extend the town office’s hours.
In mid-March former town clerk Emily Brooks and former tax collector/treasurer Christina Kidney resigned, leaving the town with no full-time office staff. Kidney was hired in late February and Brooks served for more than a year. Before hiring Kidney, the select board had struggled for months to replace her predecessor, Amber Mountiho, who left in September.
Mountiho declined to comment on her reasons for leaving. Brooks and Kidney were not immediately available for comment.
Caribou-based accounting firm Felch & Company is working on the town’s annual audit. Accountant Mark Boucher declined to comment on specific financial details.
The audit had already been delayed due to the ongoing staff shortage, pushing the annual town meeting from mid-March to late April. The meeting, in which residents vote on the budget, will likely be delayed past April, Tardy said.
Drew alleged that former staff members, whom he did not name, had kept bank statements from the board and not reconciled the town’s checkbook for nearly a year. Because of that, auditors have discovered at least $440 that is unaccounted for in the town’s finances, he said.
Drew and Tardy cannot finalize their proposed town budget until they have a fuller picture of the town’s financial situation, Drew said.
At the meeting Thursday night, Woodland residents demanded to know why the office was closed.
As more residents pressed Drew for answers, he became angry and threatened to leave the meeting.
Much of Drew’s anger stemmed from a February board meeting in which 67 residents submitted letters of no confidence to him and former board members Scott Dow and Timothy Browning citing concerns about the town’s financial state and alleged conflicts that Drew has had with past employees.
Since then, Dow opted not to run for reelection and Tardy was elected in his place. Browning said he resigned from the board due to medical reasons.
On Thursday, Drew interrupted several residents, including Kevin Chapman.
“I’m here because of the number of employees that have quit. I’m concerned about how we as a town can receive our tax revenue. I’m concerned about our selectmen working on a budget when we don’t have the numbers,” Chapman said.
At one point, Drew rose from his chair and started to leave, but returned when Tardy and residents urged him to stay. Drew chided residents for not attending previous board meetings, and said no one shows up unless they can’t pay their taxes.
It isn’t just office staff who have left in recent months. Former highway foreman Chris Fournier resigned in January. Not long after, highway department employee Marvin Rossignol resigned, Brooks said earlier this month. Paul Pelletier is serving as interim highway foreman.
On Thursday, Tardy and Drew voted to hire Matt Ellis to the highway department. They said they are working to hire more highway employees.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the upcoming closure of the Limestone Police Department.