POLAND — Town Manager Dana Lee sat behind his desk Monday looking tired.
“I think you have to become almost soulless, maybe, to do this job in this environment,” said Lee, a veteran administrator who led Mechanic Falls for 16 years before taking the Poland job in 2007. “I don’t want to be that type of a town manager that’s got that dead look in his eyes when you come to see him and doesn’t care and isn’t really going to follow up and try to help you.”
So he’s quitting.
On Friday, Lee sent a short resignation letter to members of the Poland Board of Selectmen.
He’s grown tired of dealing with an angry minority from the public who believe that their local government is hiding secrets, squandering tax money or bending rules for some residents, he said. The complaints from people — including Poland resident Michelle Arsenault — have inflicted too much stress, he said.
Lee said he often feels ill, has lost weight and even his personality has begun to show signs of stress. He has damaged his relationship with his family, he said.
“It just gets overwhelming,” he said. “You have to make a choice whether it’s worth it anymore.”
The Sun Journal was unable Monday to reach Arsenault for comment. Calls to selectmen went unanswered.
Selectmen have called a special meeting for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss Lee’s resignation.
“I’m going to listen to what they have to say,” he said. But he gave little hope that they will change his mind. “I think the chances of me reversing my decision are mighty slim.”
At 49 years old, with a son in college and another on his way, Lee plans to find work outside the role he knows best.
“I don’t know what’s next,” he said.
The Falmouth native was still in college when he started working among municipal decision-makers, interning in Auburn to help create a capital improvement plan for the city. He was 27 when Mechanic Falls leaders hired him for their town office. He left there in 2006 figuring he’d done everything he could for the town. He went to work for the Maine Municipal Association, but he was lured back to managing a town when Richard Chick left the Poland job after more than 30 years.
“When it comes to running a municipality, nobody knows it better than Dana,” John Hawley, who worked as Lee’s assistant town manager in Mechanic Falls, said. When Lee left Mechanic Falls, Hawley took over.
He called Lee’s departure “unfortunate.”
He also agreed that the atmosphere for government workers is increasingly hostile.
“You take a lot of undue criticism,” he said.
To a point, Lee understands it.
“Today, too many people, rightfully in some cases, are disappointed in government,” Lee said. “It’s cast a shadow over all of us. And it’s hard to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. So we all get a splash effect when they’re angry.”
It’s not just managers, either.
Lee feels bad for the rest of the town staff, some of whom have shared his struggles.
“I am very, very proud of the staff and all the work they do,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
During his tenure, Lee managed to oversee many changes, including mistakes prior to his arrival that led the town to overtax Poland Spring Water Co. Fixing the mistakes and paying back the money forced the town to raise taxes.
There are other accomplishments: a new capital improvement plan, a charter and renewed town savings.
“I still believe in good government,” he said. “I believe in helping people through the power of government.”
Lee plans to stay on the job for 90 days to give the town a chance to find another town manager, he said.