WOODLAND, Maine — Woodland’s Select Board fired the town’s temporary clerk after just one day on the job and once again closed its town office.
After losing their town office employees in mid-March, Woodland’s Select Board hired Perham clerk Sue Skidgell to assist residents every Friday. Skidgell had only worked in Woodland on April 7 before board members Harold Tardy and Thomas Drew fired her.
Now, the town office is closed until the board can find at least a temporary employee. That means residents still cannot pay taxes, register their vehicles and dogs or obtain hunting and fishing licenses.
Skidgell’s departure is the latest in a series of failed attempts to keep town staff in recent months. The clerk and tax collector/treasurer both resigned in mid-March, forcing officials to close the office to the public.
Tardy and Drew said Tuesday they could not legally disclose their reasons for firing Skidgell because the situation is a personnel matter.
“It was just a mistake, a lapse in judgment,” Tardy said. “We felt we needed to part ways [with Skidgell].”
The alleged error will not affect the town’s finances or put Woodland out of compliance with state laws, but legal action could be possible, Tardy said. He did not say whether that meant legal action by the town or against it.
Skidgell has more than 20 years of municipal clerk experience and is Perham’s town administrator. She is a past president of the The Maine Town & City Clerks’ Association and current treasurer of the New England Municipal Clerks’ Institute and Academy.
She declined to comment Wednesday.
More than 60 residents filled the town garage for Tuesday’s Select Board meeting seeking answers from leaders on why the town office was closed again.
Even those who did not speak during the meeting expressed frustration over the lack of access to town services.
Phillip Bunn, who moved to Woodland from North Carolina four months ago, said he and his wife stood in line for three hours to register their vehicles on the day Skidgell worked.
“I think people deserve to know why [Skidgell] was fired. Even if it’s a legal reason, it needs to be out in the open,” Bunn said.
Drew claimed in March, before Skidgell came on board, that employees, whom he did not name, had kept bank statements from the board and not reconciled the town’s checkbooks for months.
Neither Tardy nor Drew specified whether Skidgell’s alleged error was similar in nature.
The town office first closed in March when former town clerk Emily Brooks and tax collector/treasurer Christina Kidney resigned. The Select Board had hired Kidney in February, after trying for several months to replace her predecessor Amber Mountiho, who left in September.
So far only one person has applied for posted job advertisements for a town clerk and tax collector/treasurer. That person does not have clerk experience and will not be interviewed, Tardy said.
New Sweden officials said they can work out an interlocal agreement so Woodland residents can obtain and renew fishing licenses in New Sweden, and a similar agreement might be in the works with Caribou so residents can register vehicles there, he said.
The lack of staff continues to delay Woodland’s annual town meeting and the election of a third select board member. Timothy Browning resigned in March citing health reasons.
A clerk is also needed to approve select board candidates’ paperwork, Tardy said.
The annual town meeting had already been delayed from mid-March to April 25 after Brooks and Kidney resigned. But with Woodland’s annual audit behind schedule, the meeting will not happen until at least May, Tardy said.
The Caribou-based accounting firm Felch & Co. is performing the town’s audit.
Without at least a partial audit and temporary office help, the Select Board cannot finalize the budget. A clerk needs to write the budget articles, Tardy said.
On Tuesday, Tardy and Drew appointed Donna Ekman to serve as deputy treasurer until a permanent tax collector/treasurer is hired. Ekman works as Woodland Consolidated School’s business manager.
Ekman will approve payroll for highway department employees. Paychecks were not approved last week due to Skidgell’s termination, Tardy said.
Tardy was appointed board chair and authorized to sign payroll warrants, but that did little to reassure residents who cannot access town services.
John Powers said he wished the Select Board had posted updates on the town’s website like they gave residents that evening. That way, fewer people might gossip, he said.
“It’s disheartening to know how many people have resigned and not know why,” Powers said.
The website states the town office is closed until further notice and lists the current job openings.
Resident Belinda McLaughlin was concerned about what the situation is doing to the town.
“Our town is very divided right now, but we need to come together so we can move forward,” McLaughlin said.