June 06, 2020

Rift mars SAM’s 20th anniversary> 11 board members resign in opposition to director

AUGUSTA — The 20th anniversary of the 14,000-member Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is being marred by an internal rift over its executive director, George Smith.

Smith, 47, a longtime political consultant and lobbyist, became executive director in 1993 when SAM membership was down to 4,500.

Last week, the struggle within SAM came to a head when Smith survived an attempt by the organization’s board members to force his ouster. Smith remains in office, but 11 of the 20 people on the board have resigned.

At issue are Smith’s outside business interests and his management of the SAM office in Augusta. While Smith is credited with building up the organization’s membership, some critics say the conflict is rooted in his work for Angus King’s successful 1994 gubernatorial campaign and the controversy over SAM’s endorsement of King.

“Of course, I’m sorry that it came to this,” Smith said Friday. “I’m disappointed to have this kind of upheaval just we were about to celebrate our 20th anniversary. I’m mystified why they had to offer their resignations this particular week.”

Ralph W. Sarty Jr. of Denmark, one of the board members who resigned, said unresolved issues “came to a head.”

“I feel bad that something like this has happened, but it’s the result of a long-term impasse,” Sarty said. “My opinion is that leadership has failed dramatically. I think it’s a shame. There are no winners here.”

The 11 board members, including former SAM President Mike Lee of Denmark and Rep. Catharine Damren, R-Belgrade, sent their joint letter of resignation to SAM President Jim Gorman Tuesday.

The letter proposed that SAM either retain legal counsel to weigh complaints or replace Smith.

Gorman, who said the letter left no room for negotiation, accepted the resignations.

“I’ll stick by George to the end,” Gorman said. “He’s not good at everything. He’s not good at putting budgets together, but look what he’s accomplished.”

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