NEW GLOUCESTER — Selectman George Colby abruptly resigned during Monday night’s board meeting at which the board was slated to set a date for his recall election.

“I would love to stay and continue the fight,” Colby read from a prepared statement. “For the sake of my wife and having time for myself and my family, I am done with everything concerning New Gloucester. Good night and good bye.”

Colby then signed off from the Zoom meeting.

Colby

In January, a contingent of residents successfully submitted a petition to the town to recall Colby over a comment they deemed racist. The petition, which had 337 signatures, according to Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard, was certified by the town registrar Jan. 19 and the Select Board on Jan. 28.

According to the town’s recall ordinance, the board has 10 days upon receipt of a petition to set a date for the special election, which must occur within 45 to 60 days of certification.

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“There is nothing illegal or unlawful about being offensive,” Colby said at the Feb. 1 meeting.

He said that a December 2010 email exchange between him and then-Selectman Joshua McHenry in which he used a racial slur was a forwarded email that he received from a friend and sent to other people.

“I will apologize to my friends and my wife if they have been affected by that,” he said, but he did not apologize for the email’s content.

The 10-year-old email exchange circulated on social media after a Dec. 3 Select Board meeting in which, at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, Colby said, “liberty and justice for all, for everyone. Even us white folks!”

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On Monday, Colby said the comment he made Dec. 3 “was true and I stand by it as it is happening right now.”

The other Select Board members did not immediately react to Colby’s resignation, and there appeared to be some confusion over what to make of his statement because he did not explicitly state he was resigning.

Select Board members Karen Gilles, Linda Chase, Tammy Donovan and Peter Bragdon voted to tentatively set the special election for March 30, but plan to cancel it once they receive Colby’s written resignation.

Gilles said in an interview Wednesday she spoke that morning to Colby, who said he would provide the town with his formal resignation and a copy of his statement within a few days.

Colby was elected in 2019 and his term expires in 2022. He had previously served as chairperson of the board. He has also been a member of the town’s Budget Committee and Land Management Planning Committee.

Gilles called the last two months “really difficult.”

“My understanding, it was a statement that he never planned to say. It just kind of came out,” she said. “Ultimately, the board did what we had to do to kind of protect our employees, protect our town and move forward.”

Had Colby not resigned, Gilles said that residents would have “the right at the point to vote” on his recall.

“I honestly thought the topic would go to the ballot box and the citizens would have their say,” Bragdon wrote in an email Wednesday morning.  “With that said, I still respect George as a friend, neighbor and as a person.”

Donovan, in an email Tuesday evening, said that she believed Colby “did what was best for him and his family as expressed in his statement at our meeting.”

All three said they were surprised by Monday night’s events and that prior conversations with Colby had not led them to believe he was planning to resign.

Chase and Fox-Howard, the town manager, could not be reached for comment.

For some of the residents who were involved in the recall effort, Colby’s apparent departure was “a bitter ending to a sad situation,” said Tom Jordan, who along with his wife, Lauren Frantz, had helped collect signatures for the petition.

“I don’t think that Mr. Colby fully understands why this happened, and that is not a great feeling,” Jordan said in an email Tuesday. “Since there won’t be a recall election, I feel that the townspeople have lost an opportunity to make a statement about who we are as a community.”

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Stephen Hathorne, one of the lead organizers of the petition drive along with SAD 15 board member Nichole Stevens, said he was surprised Colby hadn’t resigned earlier.

“I was not surprised that he remained defiant and true to his conviction even in his resignation. He still takes no responsibly or remorse,” the former selectman said.

“While I wish this could have happened differently, I’m glad to feel as if this town is at least slightly more aware of how little racism will be tolerated,” said Amanda Mancini-Fitch, who is active in the group New Gloucester United Against Racism.

Many members of the group, which was formed last summer by resident Cam Dufty, were involved in the recall petition.

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