Selectmen reject community development director nominee

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

The search for a new Community Development Director will continue.

Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody thought he had a top candidate when he nominated Theresa Oleksiw of Freeport.

An interview panel whittled a prospective list to four individuals, who were interviewed for the post.

The panel included Peabody, Deputy Town Manager Georgiann Fleck, Selectman Bear Zaidman, Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins, Land Use Zoning Committee chairman Chuck Renneker, and Code Enforcement Officer Rob Baker.

The panel expressed interest in three candidates who were to receive a second interview conducted by Peabody and Fleck. One candidate withdrew from consideration. Following the second interview, Peabody decided to nominate Oleksiw, a resident of Freeport.

Oleksiw was introduced at Tuesday’s meeting, and spoke briefly about her planning background. She worked in the field for 18 years, one in New York and 17 here in Maine.

She holds a degree in Natural Resources from Rutgers University and University of Maine, as well as a master’s of professional studies in Community Development from the University of Maine.

In New York, she was a senior planner and planning director, managed multiple regional planning projects and directed the State of New York application review process.

Oleksiw was a land use planner for the State of Maine from 1990–1994; was a regional planner for Androscoggin Valley Council of Government 1994–97; was a planning and development director for Topsham, city planner for Biddeford 2000–03, and a planning consultant for Harspwell and Bowdoin in 2004–05.

She told selectmen that she had written land use ordinances and comprehensive plans. She left the planning field in 2005 to take care of her children. She later earned a music degree from the University of Southern Maine.

“I am excited to come back to work again (in the planning field), especially in a community that is ready to grow some more,” Oleksiw said. “What excites me about coming to Bridgton is the growth going on, and the town is ripe for community development.”

With no comment from the board, selectmen then voted on the nomination. The nomination was rejected by a 3–2 vote — Chairman Greg Watkins, Bear Zaidman and Bob Murphy against.

Selectmen Bob McHatton and Bernie King voted in favor.

As selectmen quickly moved onto the next agenda item — discussion of a Farmers’ Market policy to aid in communication and expectations (which was ultimately tabled to allow a committee including selectmen and town staff to discuss the issue) — Peabody met with Oleksiw in a private back room for a few minutes, and then she departed.

A short time later under the “Selectmen’s Concerns” part of the meeting, McHatton voiced his displeasure with how things unfolded.

“It was embarrassing,” said McHatton, who was attending his first board meeting since undergoing heart surgery. “I’m not happy. In the 29 years I’ve been on the board, this is the first time I’ve seen this happen.”

McHatton disliked the process, but Peabody said the nomination process is spelled out in state statute. As manager, he nominates. Selectmen vote on the nomination.

Fleck did note that applicants are made aware that their nomination could either be approved or rejected.

“I didn’t think she was a good fit for the town for what we need right now,” said Zaidman following the board meeting.

While Murphy echoed that line of thinking, Chairman Watkins later issued an e-mail regarding his position on the matter, “As the town manager outlined tonight, by statute it is not the direct duty of the board to select candidates for hire, that job lies with the town manager. It is the duty of the board to confirm the appointment recommendation made by the town manager.”

He added, “Given the information that was presented to me in the process and by the candidate herself in person tonight, I voted for what I felt was in the best interest of the town.”

Peabody said Wednesday the town will readvertise the position.

Bridgton’s employee policy calls for a six-month probationary period for all new hires, who can be dismissed without cause during that time frame.

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