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Deering selectmen fire town administrator

Deering’s two selectmen fired Town Administrator Craig Ohlson, effective yesterday, a move that comes on the heels of a months-long conflict between Ohlson and Chairwoman Michelle Johnson.

Ohlson has filled the position since it was created in 2007. He will receive about $53,000 in severance pay, equal to one month’s salary for each year of his employment, and his insurance benefits will continue for 10 months. He will not be replaced this year and a town press release indicated the position may be eliminated. Ohlson is one of several town employees who have resigned or been fired in recent years. Selectwoman Krista Couturier, the third member of the board, resigned last month. The selectmen appointed Elizabeth Kelly to that seat last night.

Both Johnson and Selectman Aaron Gill referred a reporter to the press release issued yesterday. The release did not state a specific reason for Ohlson’s termination but said it relates to issues dating back to 2012.

“The Board did not make this decision quickly or reactively,” the release said.

Ohlson declined to discuss specifics of his firing, but a complaint he filed with the selectmen in March alleged Johnson had created a hostile work environment and made it difficult for him to carry out his duties. The letter was published in the Hillsboro Messenger, and Ohlson confirmed its authenticity.

Ohlson said Johnson asked him to resign in early February, but he refused, saying she couldn’t demand his resignation without board action. The other two board members at the time, Couturier and JP Marzullo, did not support Johnson’s request, the letter said. Johnson also said she wanted Ohlson out by March when Gill began as a selectman because Gill and Ohlson’s wife work for the same employer. In the complaint, Ohlson alleges that Johnson became more hostile after his refusal to resign.

“She has been overwhelming me with emails and demands which I feel are outside her capacity and without approval of the board,” the complaint says. “Her actions have interfered with my ability to perform my job.”

In the letter, Ohlson asked the board to take necessary action in accordance with town, state and federal laws. It is unclear how, if at all, the board responded to this letter.

In an email, Johnson told the Monitor not everything in the letter is true but declined to comment further.

“I can say that not all the factual assertions are true nor are the conclusions that are drawn from those assertions accurate,” she said.

Marzullo, who left the board in March, said Ohlson served the town well and letting him go was not in the town’s best interest.

“I always found him to be respectful, good at his job and (he) represented the town with integrity,” Marzullo said.

Both Marzullo and Johnson were on the board when Ohlson was hired in 2007. They created the position because the selectmen could not manage the daily duties of running the town, Marzullo said. But the selectmen’s press release says the position may no longer be necessary because the level of development in town has declined.

“The board will immediately begin a comprehensive review of required personnel,” the release said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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