SANGERVILLE, Maine — A Maine town clerk’s husband resigned on her behalf during a public meeting Wednesday night.
Lorna Bell is town clerk in the Piscataquis County town of Sangerville. Bell, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, has served as town manager since November 2021, she said in February.
The town has had four different town managers in the past five years, said Kenny Bell, her husband.
Sangerville is the latest Maine town grappling with dysfunction. In some cases, a longtime manager or clerk retired, leaving a community scrambling to find a qualified replacement for a demanding job, which is a challenge during a nationwide shortage of workers. Other municipalities have shuttered, sometimes for months at a time, because a leader who served in multiple roles quit.
During Wednesday’s meeting, some of the 25 or so residents in attendance asked why Bell was no longer serving as town manager and who the new town manager even is.
“I want you guys to know Lorna is done today,” Kenny Bell told Sangerville’s Select Board. “She is not coming back. You’ll get your keys. Good luck. You’ve got a few things due in a couple weeks that nobody knows how to do.”
Lorna Bell always looked out for the town, he said. The couple patched roads and completed other tasks on the weekends without ever charging the town, he said.
Meeting minutes from late May reveal that Lorna Bell would serve as interim town manager and road commissioner until the manager position was filled.
Board members appointed Patrick Lewis as the new town manager on Aug. 23, according to meeting minutes, which also stated Lorna Bell would remain town clerk and wages were set. After an executive session later that day, the board voted to pay Bell her salary through Sept. 8 and to train the newly hired town manager, after which she would receive $22.25 per hour for her position as town clerk.
In April 2022, Bell’s grandson died, and while she was at home grieving, the board “approached the deputy clerk to make accusations to get her terminated,” Kenny Bell said. She recently took a $250 hit to her weekly paycheck because a new town manager was hired, he said.
At one point, the board asked Lorna Bell to have an inspection done on Sangerville’s historic town hall, knowing it would not pass and municipal staff would need to move out, he said.
The town hall, built in 1901 and known for its striking stained glass windows, is no longer insured or open to the public after inspections found issues, primarily with its foundation. The building is controversial because Sangerville has struggled to determine its fate. Some residents want to save it, believing it would preserve the town’s eroding identity, but town leaders have argued it is too costly to maintain.
A potential property sale was added to the mix this summer, when a man offered to buy the town hall for $20,000 and transform it into apartments, though no decisions have been made.
Two board members present on Wednesday did not dispute Kenny Bell’s claims, but information was shared that “people would disagree with,” Chairperson Michael Wark said.
Lewis introduced himself to the public and praised Lorna Bell, saying he would miss working with her. He grew up on Center Pond in Sangerville and Mount Desert Island, he said. Lewis has a construction and military background, he said, and he didn’t specify whether he has experience in public administration.
Because Lorna Bell’s position change is a personnel matter, the board cannot reveal details, Wark told residents. But she has been interim town manager for months, which she agreed to, and the search for a new hire was not a surprise, he said.
When Lorna Bell was first hired, her role as both town manager and clerk was a new concept, Select Board member Dale Gray said after the meeting. The town wanted to see if the workload was feasible for one person, and there was an understanding that if it was not, she would serve as only the clerk, he said.
Lewis and the board have not received a formal resignation letter from Lorna Bell, they said.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated when the meeting was held.