Woodland loses another town employee as it battles dysfunction

2 months ago

WOODLAND, Maine — A town employee’s abrupt resignation sparked audience concerns and revealed a lack of communication among Woodland Select Board members Tuesday night.

About 50 residents turned out for the regular Select Board meeting at Woodland Consolidated School. 

The town has seen months of dysfunction and turnover among town employees and board members. Conflicts led to Select Board resignations, financial delays and meeting cancellations. A new steering committee and a citizen comprehensive plan committee started last month to help the town create a smoother future. 

In light of the town’s plans to move beyond its troubles, the resignation of highway department employee Matt Ellis came as a shock to many.

“It’s a regret to have to announce that Matt Ellis has moved on,” Select Board member Tom Drew said. “We’ve disrupted a very organized, team-worthy group of men in the highway department, and I hope we don’t lose any more. The roads have been taken care of impeccably.”

Ellis joined the highway department in March 2023. Now, two full-time employees remain. 

In the letter, which Drew read after stating Ellis had given him permission to share it, Ellis said he would terminate his employment on Feb. 16. He gave several reasons for resigning, including: that administrative staff withheld W-2 tax forms; paid him later than the scheduled pay date; provided him with inaccurate leave time balances; and failed to uphold pre-employment agreements, which he did not specify.

WOODLAND, Maine — February 27, 2024 — Gene Bradbury (right), a member of the newly formed Woodland Steering Committee, speaks during the town’s Select Board meeting on Feb. 27. (Paula Brewer | Aroostook Republican)

“‘Select Board members have created chaos’ — wow — ‘being more concerned with their personal issues rather than town business,’” Drew said, reading the letter. “These are his reasons, and they should be your concerns as we narrowly follow down the road of transparency.”

Board members said they did not know of Ellis’ complaints until they received the letter.

A resident asked Highway Foreman Paul Pelletier if Ellis had shared any concerns or complaints with him. 

Ellis had not complained but had asked for and received a copy of personnel policy, Pelletier said. Ellis also asked about the W-2, and Pelletier in turn talked to Town Clerk Bridget Coats about it, he said. 

“She told me that they were printed, but that they were holding on to them for some reason,” Pelletier said. 

Coats said they were actually put in Pelletier’s mailbox but he did not come to the town office to pick them up.

Pelletier did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Select Board Chair Matt Cole reported talking with Ellis on about a dozen occasions in the last two months. Ellis had not indicated anything amiss and had not submitted any concerns in writing, Cole said.

Drew reached out to Ellis to see if there was anything the town could do to change his mind, he said. Ellis told him he knew Drew had no negotiating power by himself to offer any solutions, Drew said. 

“It’s very shameful that we lost somebody like that over foolishness. This town is destructive and I don’t know what’s going to bring it back around,” resident Tom Anderson said. “And it’s about time we all have got to grow up and put our big-boy pants on.”

Several people asked if Drew, Cole and Select Board member Kathy Ouellette had talked together or met with Ellis and Pelletier. Board members said they had not discussed the letter with one another. 

Drew said he doesn’t reach out to Cole and Ouellette and will say more about why at a future meeting. His duty was to reach out to Ellis, he said.

Cole said he talked with Ellis in the hall after receiving the letter of resignation, and Ellis’ mind was made up.  

A resident commented on the lack of communication between the three board members. 

The town needs to stop losing employees, Woodland Steering Committee member Gene Bradbury said. 

“It’s nuts that somebody resigns, and we’ve lost other good employees,” Bradbury said. 

The board voted 2-1 to accept Ellis’ resignation, with Drew voting no.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to pay its six-month assessment of $68,266 to the County of Aroostook. This assessment is for six months because the county is changing its fiscal year.

The board also set the annual election and town meeting schedule. Nomination papers will be available on March 1 and are due to be returned to the town office on April 12. The election will be held Tuesday, June 11, with the annual town meeting slated Wednesday, June 12.