Alna’s first selectman takes leave, town clerk resigns

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 11:00am

Alna is losing its town clerk later this month and losing its first selectman for a month and a half. First Selectman and board chair Melissa Spinney has announced a 45-day leave of absence, effective immediately. Her July 10 letter, sent to Wiscasset Newspaper Monday, cites a current “negative focus” on one planning board application, and states that insinuations against town board members, staff and contractors have been “constant and at times just downright disgusting.”

Spinney’s letter states in part: “As many know, I am still recovering from a quintuple coronary bypass from the beginning of March, and the extreme and constant negativity directed at me and many others in town government has taken a toll on my recovery.”

Attached to this article, view Spinney’s letter in full. Also Monday at Wiscasset Newspaper’s request, Spinney forwarded Town Clerk Liz Brown’s Sunday, July 12 resignation letter that cites personal reasons; her last day of work is Friday, July 24. Brown took the job in spring 2017.

“This was not an easy decision but I believe it is time for me to leave due to personal reasons and to allow time to pursue other ventures,” Brown writes selectmen. “My experience working for the town of Alna has been rewarding and I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked here and to serve the people in our town.”

Reached via email, Brown had no further comment on her decision.

Second Selectman Doug Baston said in a phone interview Monday, Brown’s departure will leave the town with part-time clerks and a possible need to reduce office hours while a new town clerk is sought. He said the job may be hard to fill, because other towns are also looking, and jobs that involve working with the public are less attractive right now due to COVID-19 concerns, he added.

Baston will miss Brown as clerk. “She’s a kind person. She really cares about the people of Alna,” he said. She and her husband, former selectman Butch Brown, are friends of his.

And Baston said the temporary loss of Spinney from the board is a big loss for the board and town. She lives and breathes the job, almost as a full-time town administrator, he said. Given the months of criticism, especially that directed at Spinney and the board, Baston said, “It’s exhausting. You can never get away from the relentlessness of it. So I’m not at all surprised at what Melissa has done. I honestly was more afraid she might just outright resign.

“I don’t know how to get through to people the toll that this is taking on all of us, as human beings,” Baston said.
 
Baston expects the board will still commit taxes this month. He and Third Selectman Greg Shute will decide who will serve as freedom of access officer for the “endless requests” he said are still coming in. And other than that, they will be prioritizing town business to get done, he said.
 
Voters made Pennsylvania-raised Spinney, with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, the second selectman in 2015. She later succeeded retiring First Selectman David Abbott. While Spinney has been on the board, Alna got a new town office, sold the old one and, at the new one, she led efforts for the community garden and food pantry.
 
Husband Jeff Spinney’s then-proposed dock-ramp project on Golden Ridge Road and a second proposal there have had Jeff Spinney, planning board chair, and Selectman Spinney recusing themselves from meetings and parts of meetings. Voters face a referendum Tuesday to raise $50,000 for legal costs. A recent selectmen’s email to the town states the tab is “overwhelmingly driven by demands for data and information, and necessary legal review of submitted data, by opponents to the (Jeff) Spinney project.”
 
Resident Cathy Johnson and several other residents opposed the dock-ramp proposal, which Jeff Spinney later revised to a ramp proposal the planning board rejected, 2-2. In a phone interview and email Monday, Johnson said she was aware of no disrespectful correspondence to officials and, she noted, the planning board found the same issues opponents did with the project.
 

“I am sorry to hear of Melissa Spinney’s ongoing health problems and wish her well,” Johnson wrote. “... Jeff Spinney’s ... application raised many legitimate concerns. Those who had concerns about the project requested documents from the town that by law are required to be publicly available and were needed in order to fully understand the application.”

Monday afternoon, Baston and Shute notified the town of Melissa Spinney’s leave and said they regretfully accepted Brown’s resignation, said she has served admirably  and they wish her well in pursuing new opportunities; and they asked that people help “spread the word to qualified candidates” for the job they will post soon.
 
As for Spinney’s leave, they wrote, “We support Melissa’s request to take this leave of absence so that she can focus on her personal health. We know this was not an easy decision for her and we look forward to welcoming Melissa back into her role once her leave is completed.”

Their statement noted Spinney “has graciously offered to continue to provide leadership for the town food pantry and garden. (Both) are thriving under Melissa’s oversight and now provide an important resource supplying Alna residents with healthy food choices.”