NEW GLOUCESTER – Town Manager William Cooper is seeking a vote of confidence from selectmen to continue in the post he has held since 1989.

Cooper’s challenge followed the Board of Selectmen’s unanimous vote to disband a fire chief selection committee formed last month. Selectmen then directed the town manager to set up a committee to begin the search.

Cooper asked selectmen to tell him how long they wanted him to stay in his position, citing loss of confidence.

“I haven’t tendered my resignation, but I want you to decide what you want me to do,” he told them.

Last month, over the objections of Cooper, selectmen authorized a search committee to be formed under the leadership of Selectman Kevin Sullivan and to include a former Fire Department trustee, a nearby town manager, a nearby fire chief and Cooper.

Cooper’s objections at the time cited a recently enacted Fire Department ordinance that places the department under selectmen’s control and states the town manager is to select a candidate and bring a name forward to selectmen to approve.

Cooper said his duties include hiring and firing town employees and selectmen have no authority to interfere.

Roughly 20 applications are before the board. The position is to be filled by July 1. The post is now held by full-time firefighter Bruce Tupper. The new position will combine fire chief and firefighter duties.

“Based on what has transpired last month with me, the board and the public, I want the board to have a meeting and find out how long they want me to work with you,” said Cooper last week in open session. “I took hard shots at an open meeting and the board saw fit to remain quiet. I believe the robust defense I put up with this committee was a slap in my face. I think the town has lost the confidence of the board.”

Chairman of the board Steve Libby last week recommended disbanding the committee based on advice from the town’s attorney.

“Town attorney Chris Neagle contacted me,” Libby said. He proposed that the fire chief interview committee be abolished and the town manager be directed to appoint a committee.

The town manager, Libby said, is to submit a fire chief candidate for approval by the board.

“The board needs to have a frank discussion with you in executive session.”

“This is a misunderstanding and misinterpretation. There is no credibility lost,” Libby said.

“I feel a loss of confidence in this board and it’s not in the best interest of this town to continue,” Cooper said.

Selectmen were told during an audience participation portion of a meeting several months ago by resident Beth Sutherland to fire the town manager for the tenor of letters to the editor he wrote in the New Gloucester News.

Libby said he believes open sessions for the audience gives residents the ability to sound off if they will.

Selectman Steve Chandler said, “I haven’t lost confidence at all.”

Selectman Jim Giffune said, “The democratic process ended up with the right answer. Five of us here are here to serve the town where we live. There are ways you conduct your business I don’t like. But on balance, each is the sum total of our character. On balance you’re a good man for this job with the ability to manage money. To take this bump in the democratic road is inappropriate. If you want to commit suicide, I’d be damn disappointed.”

“You are an effective, efficient administrator,” said Selectman Kevin Sullivan.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said Libby. “I think if we have a problem with credibility issues, we will tell you in executive session. Board members will do what they think is best.”

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