Town officials learned Wednesday, May 16, that Searsport Fire Chief Jim Dittmeier plans to resign from the position he’s held for the last several years.

Dittmeier, who began serving as interim chief following the resignation of former Fire Chief Terry Cook Jr. in Oct. 2007, accepted the official role in Nov. 2007.

Searsport Town Manager James Gillway confirmed Dittmeier turned in his resignation letter Wednesday, and in it, the chief noted he was leaving for personal reasons.

Gillway said he was surprised to see the contents of the letter.

“It was on my desk yesterday morning,” said Gillway. “I didn’t expect to see it.”

Gillway said Dittmeier, who was named Emergency Management Agency Director of the year in 2010, has been able to attract new volunteer firefighters and unify the downtown and North Searsport fire departments during his tenure.

“Jim [Dittmeier] has dragged us a long way further in that endeavor,” said Gillway. “He truly fostered a membership and a sense of ownership with the fire fighters themselves.”

Dittmeier’s tenure with the town has had its ups and downs in recent months, as the fire chief drew criticism from the public after authoring a controversial post on the Searsport Fire Department’s Facebook page. In that post, which appeared on Nov. 16, Dittmeier offered his personal thoughts about the ongoing debate surrounding the development proposal from Colorado-based DCP Midstream to construct a 22.7-million-gallon Liquid Petroleum Gas tank at Mack Point.

The post, which no longer appears on the Fire Department’s Facebook page, encouraged the “silent majority” of people in town who support the potential development to share their views with town selectmen. He further stated the development could bring jobs for young people and provide more tax dollars for the town, according to previously published reports.

At that time Dittmeier described local opponents of the development as “a few people that just want the town to stay this way and die.” Dittmeier suggested, “maybe we should have a sign that says ‘Searsport, Town of Complainers who are against everything,'” reports at the time quoted.

Dittmeier also submitted a letter to the editor that ran in the Dec. 1 issue of the VillageSoup Journal, in which he reiterated his position. In that letter, Dittmeier said he was expressing his opinion as a taxpayer and not as the town’s fire chief.

Dittmeier’s Facebook post was in part what triggered the Board of Selectmen to consider adding an amendment to the town’s existing computer use and email policy pertaining specifically to town employees’ use of social media. The board approved the amended policy at its May 1 meeting following several weeks of discussion, including a selectman’s workshop aimed at discussing the details of the policy change. Following the May 1 meeting, Gillway said selectmen made two additions to the draft policy, one “reminding employees that they represent the town” and the second “re-emphasizing that their use of social media is being monitored.”

Gillway said Dittmeier’s resignation is not the result of any “pressure from the board.”

But Dittmeier’s resignation has triggered the need for selectmen to revisit an ordinance in town that pertains to how the fire chief is selected. Gillway said the current ordinance was enacted sometime in the 1980s during a movement to unify the downtown and North Searsport Departments under one chief. The language states the town manager is to appoint the fire chief, but Gillway said the fire chief’s position is the lone post that is to be appointed solely by the town manager.

Gillway said he wants to see that change.

“I answer to the Board of Selectmen, and they are elected by the people,” said Gillway. “I feel the appointments should be in the hands of the board.”

That issue had come up in recent months, Gillway said, when selectmen were discussing appointments in general, and questioning why the fire chief’s position is not appointed annually like some others are.

By the time those issues came up, though, Gillway said it was too late to get any ordinance changes on the warrant for the last town meeting in March.

“At recent town meetings we’ve been so busy with town issues, it makes those kinds of things very difficult,” said Gillway.

Now selectmen must consider how to approach appointing a new fire chief, and Gillway said having an ordinance in place that “might have been best for that time but doesn’t fit today” creates a new kind of challenge.

Gillway said with that issue in mind, Dittmeier has agreed to remain on board until his replacement can be appointed.

“Jim [Dittmeier] has agreed to stay in while we get through this issue, and until we can find someone who can carry on some of the initiatives that were started under his watch,” said Gillway.

As of noon Friday, Dittmeier had yet to return a call requesting comment.