WINDHAM — Tony Plante has left his position as town manager with a severance package of $175,000.
Donald Gerrish, an experienced town manager, has been appointed to serve in that role while the town searches for Plante’s replacement.
The Town Council voted 5-2 at its Oct. 9 meeting to approve the severance agreement, which was worked out by Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf and an attorney for Plante. Councilors Timothy Nangle and Jarrod Maxfield voted against approval.
The compensation of $175,000 is equal to one year’s salary and half payment for Plante’s accrued sick time and vacation time, as per town policy, Langsdorf said.
The agreement stipulates that Plante cannot take legal action against the town or any of its employees or town councilors, Langsdorf said.
Nangle took issue with that provision along with another that reads in part, “Employee and Employer will not make any unfavorable statements or communications of any nature about each other.” Nangle said he reads that as “the taxpayers are paying off the manager for Councilor Chapman’s slanderous comments.”
“The whole point of this process is to make a clean break and to not continue to disparage each other and to move forward with the new town manager,” Langsdorf said.
Plante’s employment with the town came into question last month after Chairwoman Donna Chapman told the Lakes Region Weekly that Plante should either retire or face a possible firing. Her comments were related to two recent outside reports looking into discontent within the Public Works Department. Both reports cited a need to improve communication, trust and accountability throughout town departments, among other findings.
Plante has not commented on Chapman’s remarks and could not be reached since by the newspaper. Nangle and Maxfield have said Chapman had a “vindictive vendetta” against Plante and that she defamed him.
In an interview Oct. 9, Chapman said Plante took her statement to mean that there were no other options for him than to retire or be fired. “At that point, nothing was off the table. I didn’t mean he should be terminated. I really wanted to see this mutual agreement happen,” she said.
It has not been disclosed who initiated the severance agreement, although Councilor Dennis Welch said Plante no longer wanted to continue in the position.
“The big question is, why does he want to leave,” Nangle asked. “He told me that he doesn’t want to leave, but his hand was forced.”
“Paying a large severance package is not what’s normally done when a person is fired or let go for a legitimate cause,” Maxfield said.”If somebody actually did something worth losing their job, they don’t walk out the door with $175,000.”
Langsdorf said severance agreements come in all sizes in different towns and for different situations. “There’s no standard rule on how that is applied,” he said.
Welch said he views the payout “as severance pay for Tony’s 20-plus years of service.” The council didn’t have just cause or the five affirmative votes it would have needed to fire Plante, he said.
The council also voted, 5-2 with Nangle and Maxfield against, to authorize the agreement with Gerrish for his services as interim manager and to contract with law firm Eaton Peabody to conduct a search for a permanent town manager.
Gerrish, a municipal consultant at Eaton Peabody, will help lead the search. He served as town manager in Brunswick for nearly 20 years and was manager of Gorham for 10. He has also served as interim town manager in South Portland.
“I am confident that this is the best person you could have gotten to fill this role right now,” Langsdorf said.
It takes towns, on average, three to four months to find a new town manager, he said.
Plante’s last day on the job, and Gerrish’s first, was Oct. 10.
Plante served as town manager since 1996 and was named Manager of the Year in 2016 by the Maine Town, City and County Management Association.
After Chapman’s comments about Plante’s employment last month, town staff members and residents turned out at a Sept. 25 town council meeting to show their support of Plante and their displeasure with Chapman.
In an interview after the Oct. 9 meeting, Chapman said, “It’s difficult to sit here and take accusations after accusations week after week after week. It’s just constant attack, and it’s truly not healthy for the community, it’s not healthy for the council, and I’m quite fed up.”
Windham resident Liz Wisecup said during the public comment period at the meeting that Plante had “done a lot of good things, and I personally want to wish him and his wonderful family well whatever happens.”
Jane Vaughan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or at email@example.com.
Councilor Dennis Welch explains Oct. 9 that he voted to approve the severance agreement for Town Manager Tony Plante because Plante wants to leave.
Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman listens to council discussion about the severance agreement Oct. 9.
The Windham Town Council votes 5-2 to approve a severance agreement between the town and Tony Plante.