EAST MACHIAS — After days of keeping private the events that led her to resign as the town clerk of East Machias, Donna-Jean Metta released an open letter to her fellow townspeople Wednesday.
The five-page letter outlines the sequence of events between Metta’s re-election on March 30 and her April 7 resignation.
Describing her decision to resign as one that was “made with great difficulty and a great deal of anguish,” Metta writes of her feeling of betrayal when her deputy clerk, Dale Robinson, ran against her at the March 30 town meeting, her discomfort with the prospect of continuing to work with Robinson, and the selectmen’s request that she reappoint Robinson as her deputy to save the town from a possible lawsuit. Noting she believed she had to choose between working with someone she felt was out to take her job or putting the town in line for a lawsuit, Metta said she felt the best thing she could do for the town was to leave.
“I’m not the kind of person to walk out on a job,” Metta said in an interview Wednesday morning. “I have to have a very good reason and I want the people who elected me to understand what I did.”
Metta said before she and selectmen hired Robinson as deputy office clerk in May 1996, she had asked Robinson if she would ever run against her for the clerk position. Robinson told her she would not seek election unless Metta were no longer interested in the position. Metta said she asked Robinson that question because she had just finished working with a deputy clerk who had run against her and it was very uncomfortable. That deputy clerk, Bunnie Wright, resigned in April 1996, she said.
Metta’s association with East Machias municipal government began in 1990 when her mother, Bernice Gardner, was town clerk. Gardner, who was having health problems, was the East Machias town clerk for more than 30 years. When Gardner ran for re-election in 1994, an office assistant who had been on the job for six months ran against her. Gardner won re-election and died in office. Metta was appointed to finish her mother’s term. When Metta ran for the position of town clerk in 1995, the office assistant, who was at that time the deputy clerk, challenged her and lost.
“I just didn’t want to go through that again,” Metta said.
Metta said she told selectmen on Tuesday, March 31, that she was not comfortable reappointing Robinson as her deputy and, at first, she said selectmen told her it was her decision and they would support her.
On Wednesday, Metta said, she told Robinson of her decision and why she had made it. On Thursday, she gave selectmen the name of another candidate. Selectmen told her they were not sure about the person’s qualifications and told her they thought she should reappoint Robinson, Metta said.
“They also expressed a concern that if I did not appoint Dale to the deputy position, that she could file a lawsuit against both myself and the town,” Metta said. “They then suggested a three month probationary appointment for Dale and said we would review the situation at that time.”
Metta said she verbally agreed to the plan because she did not want to expose herself or the town to a lawsuit. That night, she said she thought over the situation and decided her only course was to resign. Metta said she communicated her decision to selectmen Charles Fritz Sr. and Bucket Davis that night by phone.
Metta said she reported for work on Friday, but found she was unable to carry out her duties, given the situation. She called Davis and told him she could not remain at the office. Davis came to the office, notified the other two selectmen, and the office closed for the afternoon.
Metta said she consulted an attorney on Monday. On Tuesday, she called Davis and told him she would be resigning and wanted to make arrangements to turn over the municipal building keys and do an inventory of cash, registrations and stickers.
Selectmen met in special session on Tuesday afternoon. They accepted her resignation with regret and appointed Robinson to the position of town clerk.
Robinson confirmed Wednesday that she had told Metta she would not run against her when she was hired in May 1996, but said she had changed her mind.
“I had numerous people ask me to run, including numerous town officials,” Robinson said. “There was nothing personal in this and I explained that to Donna.”