2016-03-31 / News

Ousted welare director concerned for the city’s vulnerable

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer


Vicky Edgerly spoke to the city council last Thursday before the council voted to eliminate her position as director of health and welfare. “My concern tonight is not about me, it’s about the people in the community,” she said. “I don’t see that you’ve set this up in such a way so that the person who will be handling health and services will be able to serve the needs.” (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Vicky Edgerly spoke to the city council last Thursday before the council voted to eliminate her position as director of health and welfare. “My concern tonight is not about me, it’s about the people in the community,” she said. “I don’t see that you’ve set this up in such a way so that the person who will be handling health and services will be able to serve the needs.” (Ben Meiklejohn photo) BIDDEFORD – The city council voted unanimously on March 24 to reorganize city departments and eliminate two administrative positions – a deputy fire chief and the director of health and welfare. Deputy Fire Chief Scott Gagne will not be affected since he is the acting fire chief, but Health and Welfare Director Vicky Edgerly, who has been on paid administrative leave pending the decision, will no longer be director.

Several members of the public spoke in defense of Edgerly before the vote; some even held signs in protest.


Biddeford resident Shara LaBrecque holds a sign at a city council meeting last week in protest of the elimination of the director of health and welfare position. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Biddeford resident Shara LaBrecque holds a sign at a city council meeting last week in protest of the elimination of the director of health and welfare position. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Shirley Bowen, executive director of Seeds of Hope, said, “I think the loss of the director is a huge loss for our community because of the extensive work she has done. It's more than just the GA writing checks – it's more than that – it's problem solving. In our work, we talk about mercy justice. If we just keep putting Band-Aids on things and don't help them move forward …”

Bowen said she was most concerned that the staff would no longer be allowed to collaborate with other organizations to help Biddeford's poorest residents access resources.

“We have always worked collaboratively together to serve the poorest folks in our community,” she said.

Edgerly also addressed the council, saying, “The damage is done. I had to turn over my keys and I was treated like a criminal.”

“I was appalled that staff would not be allowed to collaborate,” she added.

Edgerly said Biddeford has kept costs down because of the collaborations the city makes with other organizations.

“We keep the costs of general assistance down because we put resources into finding out what we have available to them, how we can make them self-sufficient,” Edgerly said. “The majority of people in Biddeford who get general assistance do so for less than a month, because they get a job. We don't want to hand out your money. We want to help the people in need.”

Edgerly said she hopes she has an opportunity to meet with the council directly to discuss the manner in which putting her on paid leave was handled.

Edgerly said her office was “ransacked” after she was put on leave, and she was told not to speak with other employees and that she couldn't enter city hall.

“If I had stolen something, that would be understandable,” Edgerly said, “but this has nothing to do with my performance. There are a lot of hardworking people who work for the city and you owe them a whole lot more than what you did to me.”

Former at-large city councilor Richard Rhames said he had seen the city send an administrator on the “frog march” before, and “it didn't go well.”

“We had a planner, one of the best I remember, who ran afoul of the developer class and the keys were stripped of her and she was marched out of city hall,” Rhames said. “The conservation folks and other people who were interested in the environment, we were refreshed and pleased that we finally had someone who could finally hear the arguments – but you run the risk and she paid the price.

“The city council ought to rethink its basic world view of putting people on the street … Positions exist for a reason and unless the reason goes away, it doesn't seem to me that you can get rid of the position.”

Before the vote was taken, Ward 7 City Councilor Michael Ready said the city could have handled the situation better.

“This was handled at our point, very poorly, the personnel committee made that very clear,” Ready said. “There's truth in how Ms. Edgerly felt she was treated. It's not the way it should have been done.”

Ready said he believes the remaining staff who administer health and welfare services should be allowed to collaborate with other groups, and will be able to continue providing services largely because of how well they were trained by Edgerly.

“I think there will be some challenges, but she built a team there that can handle those challenges,” Ready said. “The mistake here is in the way we handled the personnel and the personal part of it, but I will support the plan.”

After the meeting, Ward 5 City Councilor Bob Mills said he supported the plan after he saw that the cities of Saco and Sanford don't have a welfare director, even though they pay out nearly double the amount in assistance.

Mills said he was going to speak with City Manager James Bennett and push for Edgerly to get the maximum amount of retirement and severance benefits possible. Edgerly has worked for the city for 27 years and was only two years away from retirement eligibility.

Edgerly said after the meeting that she was “very concerned” for the city.

“Keep an eye on the city manager,” she said.

Return to top