Nearly 40 people showed up to South Bristol’s town office for the meeting of the select board on Thursday, Jan. 26 to voice concerns about oversight in the town office.
Based on discussion at the meeting between residents and the select board, an alleged incident between Town Clerk Brenda Bartlett and Rob Lincoln led to Lincoln’s resignation as tax collector on Jan. 26. His brothers, Ken Lincoln and Todd Lincoln, resigned from their positions as a member of the select board and animal control officer, respectively, prior to Rob Lincoln’s resignation.
The two remaining members of the select board — Chester Rice and Bruce Farrin Jr. — declined to comment directly on personnel matters, but said they have been seeking advice from the Maine Municipal Association since the incident took place. Rice noted that the select board did accept Rob Lincoln’s resignation as tax collector.
“Bruce and I have been here right steady since it happened and we haven’t slept a wink,” Rice said. “These people are all our friends and we feel bad about what’s happened. But we can’t fix it.”
During public comment, residents expressed concern for the work environment in the town office and called for the select board to consult with legal counsel in the handling of the matter to potentially pursue an investigation or mediation between the two individuals.
Bartlett was in attendance at the meeting, taking minutes for the select board, but did not comment on the matter. She also declined to comment by phone on Tuesday, Jan. 31, citing the issue as a “personnel matter.”
When asked about his resignation, Ken Lincoln said anything that was said when he resigned on Jan. 5 was in an executive session of the board and he could not share any of that information. Rob Lincoln and Todd Lincoln could not be reached for comment.
Katie (Lincoln) Spear said that at her job, she would be put on administrative leave if an incident happened in the workplace, but she “hasn’t seen clear action for both sides” regarding the alleged incident in the town office. No South Bristol employee has been placed on administrative leave, Rice said.
She said she would like to know what steps are being taken, “as someone who has spent her entire life here and as a taxpayer.”
“I think transparency is important,” Spear said. “It doesn’t feel quite open.”
South Bristol resident Sara Mitchell, who serves as chair of the school committee, read a letter from Kathryn Young, of Walpole, who could not attend the meeting in person.
Young’s letter says she is “deeply disturbed” by the discussions regarding the workplace environment at the town office.
The select board said it has taken written statements from both Bartlett and Rob Lincoln and did attempt to schedule a mediation between the two parties with lawyers present.
“We tried to sit down as four adults in this office,” Farrin said at the meeting. “It didn’t happen, that’s why we’re here.”
Rice said by phone on Tuesday, Jan. 31 that a planned mediation with Maine Municipal Association did not pan out and the town has retained Hylie West as legal counsel based on the concerns brought up during Thursday’s meeting. He said the town is waiting for legal advice to proceed.
He said the town is currently advertising for a new tax collector and will appoint someone eventually. The election of a new select board member will take place at annual town meeting, March 7 and 8, likely by write-in vote, Rice said.
South Bristol resident Ralph Norwood suggested investing in audio and video equipment for the town office in the case of future incidents.
South Bristol resident Susan Lemia said she talked to both Rob Lincoln and Bartlett, and they both said they wish there was audio and video recording of the incident that took place in the town office.
“I don’t know what all the issues are,” Lemia said. “The community is concerned about the atmosphere in the town hall.”
Tenley Seiders said people are looking for things to be answered and she feels that the “general feeling” is there is “anger, but there’s concern and questions.”
“What can we do as a community to continue to lift up this community, to show that behavior, if it happened, is not acceptable?” Seiders said. “This is not the lesson we want to teach our kids. We can be better.”
The South Bristol Select Board will next meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2.