CHESTERVILLE – The town clerk resigned Thursday morning, resulting in a number of town office functions becoming temporarily unavailable to residents.
Town Clerk Heather Wheeler verbally resigned her position Thursday morning. The Board of Selectmen was informed Thursday evening by another town employee, leaving the board scrambling to make alternate arrangements Friday morning.
“It came as a surprise,” Board Chair Guy Iverson said Friday. “It seems like everyone else in town knew about [the resignation] except the selectmen.”
As the town clerk, Wheeler was responsible for vehicle, ATV and boat registrations, as well as issuing dog licenses. Further irking Iverson was that the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles had apparently removed all material pertaining to vehicle registrations from the town office Thursday. Iverson says that the board was not informed about that removal and that he had contacted the DMV.
Iverson said that he had been in contact with the town’s attorney and Maine Municipal Association about how the town should move forward.
Meanwhile, Selectman Tiffany Estabrook has been working to secure other arrangements to allow Chesterville residents to register vehicles, license their dogs and access other elements of the town office. She said that New Sharon, the first town officially contacted by Chesterville, had agreed to begin processing Chesterville resident registrations by early afternoon Friday.
Additionally, Estabrook said, a New Sharon employee would be at the Chesterville town office on Tuesday, from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., beginning Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Estabrook said that she intended to contact other nearby towns as well, such as Jay, to try and secure additional options for residents on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. She noted that while she would have preferred a little more warning to allow for selectmen to make such arrangements in advance, the board had been working “diligently” Friday morning to limit the resignation’s disruption.
In addition to town clerk, Wheeler served as the town’s tax collector, registrar of voters, E-911 addressing officer, welfare director and deputy treasurer. Those various duties would need to be parceled out, Iverson said, to either the temporary town office assistance or other employees.
Among Wheeler’s many duties was to accept nomination paperwork for would-be elected officials. This created an additional issue, Iverson said, as the deadline for nomination papers for the March election to be returned to the town office is Jan. 27 at 4:30 p.m. Iverson said that the board had been presented with nomination papers, which include a list of signatures, Thursday evening but had been unable to accept them.
The Board of Selectmen currently consists of Iverson, Estabrook, Selectman Matt Welch and Selectman Tyler Jenness. Nomination papers are currently available for three seats that will be filled at the March election:
- The remaining year on Caldwell’s three-year seat.
- The three-year seat currently filled by Iverson.
- The perpetually one-year seat previously filled by Lambert, now filled by Jenness, and open again in March.
Iverson said that once the board had arranged for nomination papers to be accepted once more, residents that had taken out papers would be contacted.
Wheeler’s resignation is the latest in a series of town officials leaving office over the past few months. Selectman Paul Caldwell resigned in December, two months after Selectmen Anne Lambert and David Archer, both resigned on Sept. 15. Road Foreman Ron Powers resigned in October.
When asked about the recent turmoil, Iverson suggested that friction between some town employees and some selectmen was responsible. Equalizing benefit packages across different departments, issues such as the copier lease or the IRS penalties, had strained that relationship, Iverson said. He noted that one positive development to come out of the past few months had been more attendance at town board meetings, which now drew as many as 15 residents.
Through the issues, Iverson said, the town had continued to operate, completing a year’s-worth of road projects that were expected to come in under budget.
“We’re saying ‘please don’t panic,'” Iverson said, addressing residents in town. “We’ll get through this.”