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Mass-resignation from Sumner Planning Board
SUMNER — Five of the seven planning board members abruptly tendered their resignations September 18, citing irreconcilable personal differences with Jeff Pfeifer, another board member.
During the selectmen's meeting Tuesday, James Gammon, planning board chair, stated his reasoning.
"For the past couple months the atmosphere of the planning board has been pretty volatile," Gammon said.
"But I'm willing to stay on the board and see it through ... if this whole problem can get resolved," he told selectmen.
The problem he refers to is 18 months of disagreements between five planning board members and Pfeifer.
"It has a lot to do with Jeff's argumentative style," Gammon told selectmen. "If anyone disagrees with his standpoint, he gets progressively louder and more aggressive."
This isn't the first time Pfeifer has been enmeshed in mass resignations. He is a former member of the Industrial Wind Ordinance Committee. In 2011, members of IWOC threatened to resign if Pfeifer wasn't removed from the committee.
According to members, Pfeifer has a history of being "intimidating" and "unreasonable."
Pfeifer said he was only trying to create an ordinance that was legally defensible and would protect the health and property values of Sumner residents.
"He has struggled mightily to keep IWOC from going off the legal rails and exposing the town to expensive legal challenges by future wind developers," IWOC member Lana Pratt wrote to selectmen on November 21, 2011.
Pratt and Pfeifer were the only members of the seven-person IWOC who did not threaten to resign.
According to September 18 planning board meeting minutes, Gammon, and members James Durfee and Secretary Kathy Emery announced their resignations and Vice Chairman John Allen and member Larry O'Rourke, although not present, also resigned from the board.
Emery, Allen and O'Rourke were also members of IWOC who threatened to resign because of Pfeifer in 2011.
Administrative Assistant Cynthia Norton said Tuesday that James Durfee, not present at the meeting, rescinds his resignation and would rather not leave Sumner without a planning board unless the headbutting continues.
On Tuesday, selectmen confirmed that Jeff Pfeifer and alternate Steven Peters are the only remaining board members who do not wish to resign.
In order for a planning board to conduct business, it needs a quorum of three or more people.
According to Chairwoman Mary Ann Haxton, the resignation letters have been submitted to selectmen for review and discussion and will only be effective once selectmen approve them.
Lack of respect
In his September 15 resignation letter Allen states he has found it increasingly difficult "to work respectfully or gracefully" with Pfeifer.
"I feel that my attitude toward, and respect for Mr. Pfeifer has deteriorated to the point where I no longer wish to be in his presence or be on any committee that includes him," Allen wrote.
In his resignation letter O'Rourke says he believes Pfeifer is the ultimate cause of the board's "dysfunctional nature."
According to O'Rourke, Pfeifer, a law school graduate, acts "superior" to the group, especially on the matters of municipal law.
"He has commented that he is trying to save Sumner from itself by correctly interpreting the law, despite the fact that Sumner seemed to do fine for 200 years without him," O'Rourke wrote.
At the September 25 selectboard meeting, Pfeifer admitted he has a different view than other members, but simply because he seeks advice from the Maine Municipal Association when it's needed.
"I research legal issues," he said. "If it's complicated, I look up the legal summary on the MMA website or I consult, in writing, the lawyers at MMA."
"When they [the planning board] have it in black and white before them, they refuse to do what is required by the law," Pfeifer said.
He believes his education in law helps him ask MMA the right questions and keeps the town out of "expensive legal trouble," according to a letter he wrote selectmen.
In his letter O'Rourke said Pfeifer extends his position on issues – which O'Rourke and others feel are outside the board's purview – frequently dragging meetings into overtime.
Secretary Kathy Emery said she finds Pfeifer difficult to work with, especially since her appointment to the planning board last October.
"I can no longer work, speak or be in the presence of Mr. Jeff Pfeifer," Emery wrote in her resignation letter.
According to Emery, Pfeifer is unwilling to work effectively with others who do not agree with him on any issue. "His verbal replies express nothing but anger and disdain," Emery said.
She continued that "there have been numerous occasions where he has been insulting, abusive and highly critical of my performance as secretary."
In her letter, Emery said that while Pfeifer is correct about issues facing the planning board and only wants what is best for the town and residents, his "obvious intimidation, bullying, vulgarity and downright utter meanness overshadows his supposed good intentions."
Just doing job
Pfeifer alleges that the other planning board members have been personally attacking him. He said he, unlike the other members, is just trying to do his job.
"All I am doing is fulfilling my oath of office to protect the applicants and the town, and to obey the laws of the state of Maine," said Pfeifer Tuesday.
During Tuesday's meeting selectmen entered executive session to discuss letters of interest to join the planning board from Walter Jasniewski and Richard Estes.
Norton reported Wednesday that after the executive session, selectmen said it was their goal "to stabilize the planning board."
"At this time, there is not enough information to make a recommendation," Norton said.
Selectmen tabled accepting or rejecting the resignations from the planning board. They will continue to seek information to make a recommendation for new members by the next selectmen's meeting October 9.