PARIS — Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Fred Collins is the fourth employee in eight months to cite the negative political environment in Paris as a reason for leaving town and taking a job elsewhere.
At the Monday, Aug. 8 selectmen’s meeting, Interim Town Manager Bill Guindon announced Collins’ resignation. Collins’ last day is Friday, Aug. 26. Guindon read Collins’ resignation letter out loud and commented about the outgoing CEO’s departure.
“I can tell you – working with a lot of code officials – it is going to be a big loss to the town,” Guindon said. “It’s not going to be an easy position to fill.”
First, former Town Manager Amy Bernard bid Paris adieu in December 2015. Then former Detective Richard Belanger put in his notice in April and two weeks later, former Interim Police Chief Jeffrey Lange tendered his resignation.
All three cited negativity in town after selectmen pledged to cut $500,000 in municipal spending for fiscal 2017 when residents requested tax relief. The Police Department was also on the chopping block during the past budget cycle, but voters in town decided to keep its police force and not contract with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office in June.
Collins sat down with the Advertiser Democrat last week to talk about his decision to leave Paris, noting he’s a lifelong resident of the Oxford Hills. He built his new home in Paris in 2004 and had planned on staying as the town’s CEO until he retired, he said.
“For me, the stress last year wondering if you’re going to have a job comes alive,” he said. “Nobody should have to work under those conditions.”
Collins will now become the CEO in Mechanic Falls, but continue living in Paris.
“They recognize the need for code enforcement,” he said about Mechanic Falls. “They’re a growing community – doing well.”
Not just permits
He cited the recommendation from the Paris Budget Committee to reduce his hours to part time as another reason for resigning.
“This person through the Budget Committee believed the only thing I do is sign building permits. That’s not the case, it’s only a small part of my job,” Collins said. “One of the taxpayers stood up [at town meeting] and said, ‘There is no building going on in Paris,’ and that’s just not true. It made me pretty feel insignificant.”
Collins said his job focuses on life safety issues, ensuring all projects in town meet building codes, which means stricter requirements for Paris because the town’s population is more than 4,000.
He also makes sure houses are numbered properly and roads are addressed and named, serves as the E-911 officer and works with various state departments. He also holds a number of certifications with the state so he can work as CEO.
“My main concern is the health and safety of any building,” he said.
Collins also cited concerns with the selectboard and job insecurity as other reasons for getting a job elsewhere.
“I see where the current selectboard, where their agenda is – to make continuous cuts – so I can foresee not much of a future for me. When an opportunity came close to my home, I accepted the job,” he said. “I am really kind of disappointed. I really like Paris, I think there’s a lot of potential here. It’s sad to see what’s happening. The town is going in the wrong direction, it appears to me.”
Collins did give a nod to Selectmen Chairman Mike Risica.
“He did come see me after my resignation on Monday and was trying to encourage me to stay,” Collins said. “I respect that. He was a stand-up man for coming to see me and asking me to stay on.”
Risica confirmed he did want Collins to stay in Paris.
“Fred – not only is he a good, competent and qualified CEO, he is also a friend and he will be missed by the town of Paris,” Risica said. “I tried to talk him out of going, but he is just tired of the turmoil in town and he wants a change and I respect that. I wouldn’t try to keep someone if they didn’t want to be here.”
More will leave
Collins said he believes selectmen and the Budget Committee think they’re doing the right thing.
“I understand we all need to be frugal and the town needs to be as well. I have been at just about every department head meeting for four years. I have seen nothing but professional department heads trying to save money for the town – they work hard,” Collins said. “There’s a group of taxpayers that think there is waste and that’s not so. … We have state auditors here. They would let the town know.”
He predicted other employees will continue to leave Paris “until the selectboard and Budget Committee understand what their role is.”
“They certainly don’t respect us as employees. … They’re trying to micromanage their entire town – that’s not their job,” Collins said. “Their job is to ask the questions to the town manager – they’re trying to do his job. They don’t have the qualifications or the understanding or the education.”
He noted it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Paris and will miss working with residents and contractors.
“I love my job,” Collins said. “It’s going to be hard giving up the corner office.”