Court: Town manager must move, or lose job

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RUMFORD – Town Manager Stephen Eldridge must move to town immediately or lose his job, according to a ruling by Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley released Tuesday in Oxford County Superior Court.

The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed against the town by local attorney Thomas Carey and 19 other residents, who questioned the selectmen’s decision to disregard a town charter requirement that the town manager reside in Rumford.

Eldridge, who lives in Monmouth, was hired two years ago.

A special selectmen’s meeting to decide what action to take regarding Eldridge’s employment has been set for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 30.

Carey said the definition of “immediately” is subject to “reasonable” interpretations. He could not further define the number of days or weeks selectmen have to comply with the justice’s decision.

If the board does not act, he added, he could bring a motion for contempt.

Board Chairman Jim Rinaldo said Tuesday afternoon that at the time they hired Eldridge, the board believed that a state ruling no longer required employees to move to the towns of their employment.

“It was an honest mistake. This is not Steve’s doing. He got caught in the middle of a board decision,” he said, adding, that the board has always tried to do the right thing in municipal affairs.

“If mistakes are made, we try to rectify it,” he said.

Eldridge said Tuesday that he believes he has a valid three-year contract with the town, but declined further comment, other than to say he will be meeting with town attorney Jennifer Kreckel to discuss the matter.

Carey said the justice’s decision upholds the town’s charter.

“The charter won and we expect the order to be complied with,” he said.

The town held a special election in early December asking for an amendment to the 54-year-old charter that would give selectmen discretion on whether to require the town manager and three part-time appointed positions to reside in town. The amendment was defeated.

Rinaldo said Tuesday’s meeting with Kreckel will help the board decide what action to take. He said the board will meet first in closed session with Kreckel, then in a second closed session with Eldridge.

“Until we have our meeting, there’s not much to say,” he said, adding that the justice’s decision was disappointing. “This will disrupt the town again.”

Rinaldo also said he doesn’t expect the town to appeal the court’s decision.

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