Mary Walsh, our previous Recreation Department Director, took on "city hall" and it looks as though she has won. Big time!
It also looks like another failure for the Don McNeil, Matt Polstein, and MAGIC bloc who have been trying to divide and conquer our three towns for the past several years.
Having done some research for this article, I have garnered some interesting, and I believe interrelated information.
The "Vision Committee" was held September 12-13th, and again on the 19-20th of 2003. It was conducted by AMCi, located in Wiscasset but sponsored by McNeil, Polstein and the MAGIC bloc. Out of that "vision" came the idea to consolidate or regionalize all municipal services in the three towns.
For those who doubt Polstein's part in this, look back to an article authored by him that appeared in the Katahdin Times in 2003 and you will see that much of what came out of that committee were the objectives stated in his opinion article.
In the infinite wisdom of the Vision Committee, it was decided to start with the Recreation Department, as it seemed, to them, to be the least controversial and might show some cost savings? Here is an excerpt from the report issued by the Vision Committee, and dated May 5th, 2004:
STAFFING AND OFFICE SPACE
The initial staffing of the regionalized dept. is recommended as follows:
Recreation Director, 2 Recreation Superintendents etc".
It further states: "The 2 Recreation Superintendents would actually provide the day-to-day supervision of the programs and other staff with one handling the programs in Medway/East Millinocket and the second doing the same in Millinocket. They could also cover for each other during vacations or other times when there was an absence".
I count three jobs there but let's see, we have Frank Clukey and Jody Nelson , but where, Oh, where is Mary Walsh?
The "behind the scenes" work on the consolidation/regionalization plan continued, and finally the pieces all came together when the Millinocket council signed an agreement with East Millinocket and Medway in 2005.
Now for the rest of Mary's story. Unfortunately Mary, with the best interests of the children and town, locked horns with two sitting councilors and supporters of the Vision Committee.
Her first run-in was with David Nelson over an Easter Egg Hunt. Really very trivial but one which was never to be forgotten by Nelson. A more serious issue involved the grooming of snowmobile trails for which Polstein received state funding through the Recreation Department. Unhappy with the full condition of the trails, Mary reported Polstein to the town manager and to the state.
Shortly thereafter, Polstein allegedly threatened her in an E-mail, and in a confrontation in a local restaurant parking lot, and by 2005 Mary had lost her job.
Was she the best Recreation Director? I don't know. What I do know is that many parents and children came out in her defense at a public meeting and that should have counted for something, but not with the MAGIC bloc, or those involved in the Vision Committee, since it was their goal to strip Millinocket of as many services as possible.
Mary and her lawyer based their case, before both judge and jury, on "wrongful termination" but the more serious claim is that "town officials violated the Whistleblower Protection Act".
As of Wednesday, September 10th, the judge has awarded Mary $25,000 in damages. In addition, he is expected to approve a possible $50,000 in back wages (which could be increased following deliberations with the judge), and $50,000 for legal services; along with a possible demand to reinstate her prior position.
Although none of this is etched in stone until finalized, everything looks good for Mary when the judge makes his final ruling next month.
Of course the town of Millinocket can appeal the verdict but that could become quite costly at a time when the town is in dire financial straits.
Let's hope that Mary prevails, and that Millinocket's insurance policy picks up the expenses. It would also be nice if Polstein finally acquired a little humility, of which he has shown little to date. That might be too much to ask for, but perhaps the insurance company can come back on Twin Pines Snowmobile Club to recoup some of the losses.
And where does this leave our consolidated/regionalized Recreational Department? Instead of following their very own recommendations, their vindictiveness has cost Mary her job. This in turn has left Millinocket with no full-time Recreation Director, erratic supervisory coverage, a loss of programs and affairs that had previously been scheduled here in town, and all at additional costs to the town. Some success!
In addition there have also been other complaints, including some from East Millinocket and Medway, since Clukey chooses to use Bangor businesses rather than local businesses for trophies and photography.
Do I even dare to suggest that we do away with this idea and re-employ Mary as Millinocket's full-time Recreation Director? What do YOU think?
I say - WAY TO GO MARY! and Congratulations!