Standish councilor quits, citing contention

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STANDISH — A town councilor resigned Wednesday morning after leaving early from an executive session the night before. 

Standish Town Councilor Isabel Higgins said Tuesday night that she was “tired of having my integrity questioned” as she drove away from the Standish Municipal Building. She declined in an interview Wednesday to elaborate.  

“Executive session protects the information,” Higgins said. “I would expound if I could.”

She emailed her letter of resignation to town officials Wednesday morning. 

“I am tendering my resignation from the Town Council, effective immediately,” Higgins wrote in her Aug. 8 letter. “While it has been an honor to serve the people of Standish, I feel the need to remove myself from the increasingly stressful situations and confrontational meetings which have become a regular part of the job.”

Higgins’ resignation comes after the council terminated the contract of former Town Manager Kris Tucker on July 23, and Tucker later made allegations against an unnamed town employee. 

“I’m done,” Higgins said in an interview Wednesday morning. She was one of six councilors who voted in favor of firing Tucker, and also supported hiring him last fall.

Higgins said in her letter that the stress and confrontation present during council meetings “highlights, in my opinion, the serious need for a professional Human Resources Officer to help mediate when tense situations escalate, as well as to provide training for staff and Council, and help manage the day to day functioning of the staff at Town Hall.”

She would like to see a human resources position incorporated into future town budget discussion.

Council Chairman Steven Nesbitt called the resignation “very upsetting” and said Higgins “cares deeply for this town.” 

“While I understand her reasoning, I was saddened to receive her resignation,” Nesbitt said. “Councilor Higgins always had one goal as councilor and that was to help the residents of Standish and make Standish a better place to live.

“We started out competing for the same council seat years ago (she won.) but always worked together for Standish,” he added. “I will miss her hard work, dedication, and perspective on the issues at hand.”

Nesbitt and the council responded last week to allegations made by Tucker, who claimed in a July 31 interview that he is a victim of assault and false allegations of harassment by an employee.  

Nesbitt initially declined to comment on whether he was aware of any allegations made against or by Tucker, but then sent a press release from the council last Friday, Aug. 3 in response to a Lakes Region Weekly article published earlier that day. 

“In the article, Mr. Tucker has made several allegations about Standish’s Town staff. The Council feels those allegations have no credibility,” said the council press release. “The Council is proud of its Town employees.”

The council voted 6-1 on July 23 to terminate Tucker’s contract without cause, meaning he is entitled to severance and health care payments.

Councilor Peter Starostecki, the lone vote against firing Tucker, previously called the termination a “total snow job.” 

Tucker said last week that a third-party investigation for the town exonerated him of harassment allegations by a person the probe identified as a town employee whose mother is a town councilor.

Tucker told the Lakes Region Weekly he was a victim of assault and sexual harassment by the unidentified town employee, but declined to identify the employee and the councilor.

He alleges that the unnamed employee kicked him from behind in an apparent attempt at humor.

Before he was fired, Tucker’s administrative assistant was Ruth-Ann LaBrecque, the daughter of Councilor Kimberly Pomerleau.

Pomerleau said that as of last Wednesday, she was unaware of any allegations made by either Tucker or her daughter. Attempts to reach LaBrecque last week were unsuccessful. 

Nesbitt said the details of Tucker’s allegations in the Lakes Region Weekly article were “a little bit more than I was anticipating” when he initially declined to comment last week after being asked generally about allegations made by or against Tucker.  

“I felt the council needed to respond to it,” Nesbitt said, adding that “the council wants me to be the liaison, so to speak.” 

The council press release said that councilors evaluated Tucker’s performance in early July and the termination was “not an easy decision to make” but felt it was in the best interest of the town.

Tucker had been on the job for less than eight months after moving to Standish from Virginia. 

“While the town of Standish understands the disappointment Mr. Tucker is experiencing due to the termination of his contract, the town wants to clarify that Mr. Tucker’s termination was due to performance issues,” the release said.

“While the council wishes it could comment further, it needs to respect the fact that this is a personnel issue and cannot do so at this time,” it continued. 

Nesbitt said Monday the press release represented the view of a “majority” of councilors, but that he was “not able to contact everybody” on the council before the release went out.

Starostecki was the only councilor Nesbitt was unable to connect with before sending the council response Friday, the chairman said. 

“I did try to contact him a few times,” Nesbitt said of Starostecki during an interview Tuesday morning. “He has not gotten back to me.”

Starostecki said after the Aug. 7 executive session that he had previously given Nesbitt several ways to contact him, and that his phone had gotten wet and wouldn’t receive calls. 

“My complaint with the press release is that it makes it seem like a unanimous decision,” Starostecki said, adding that he “would have been fine” with the release if it was more nuanced and explained that the council was not unified in its decision to terminate Tucker. 

“There is no unity in the council,” Starostecki said Tuesday night, after both he and Higgins left the council executive session early.

While held behind closed doors, Tuesday night’s executive session had at least one moment where raised voices could be heard from outside. Town Attorney Patricia Dunn was also in with the council for much of the session.

The session was held to discuss personnel matters, according to the council’s agenda. 

Starostecki expressed frustration about the extent that council business is conducted in executive session and said the town “needs immediate transparency.” 

Nesbitt declined to comment after the executive session when asked about the two councilors leaving and the raised voices. 

Higgins was in the beginning of her second term on the council, having been re-elected in June without opposition. 

“I am sorry to let down the people of Standish by giving up this position,” Higgins said Wednesday morning. “At this point, it’s self-preservation.” 

Nesbitt expects the council to appoint someone to fill Higgins’ seat through the next town election in June 2019, and would like to see the appointment made by the council’s September meeting. 

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Editor’s note: Kris Tucker’s Attorney, Gregg Frame, has represented the reporter’s parents in an unrelated property rights case.

Kris Tucker

Standish Town Councilor Isabel Higgins, right, resigned Wednesday, citing “increasingly stressful situations and confrontational meetings.”

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