HALLOWELL — After disclosure of a Hallowell police officer’s sexual assault allegation against Chief Eric Nason, many of the City Council’s next steps will be taken behind closed doors.

Councilors will discuss the issue at their meeting on Monday, July 7, Council President Phillip Lindley said. The council could examine city policy around fraternization and employee training in the near future.

That will be the first full council meeting since the Kennebec Journal first reported the allegations, made by a female officer against Nason in June 2013.

The female officer’s claims against Nason set off a four-month Maine State Police investigation completed in October with no charges filed against Nason, 48. He was never disciplined and still works with the officer, who is 22. Most of the documentation detailing the investigation into the allegation is being withheld, and the newspaper is suing the state in Kennebec County Superior Court for police reports and other case accounts.

Now, the council will deal with the aftermath of the incident largely in private. State law deems personnel matters confidential, requiring councilors to discuss them in executive session during which members of the public and the press must leave the council chambers. Votes must be taken in public after the private discussion.

Councilor Alan Stearns said, “There’s a certain amount of frustration,” knowing the situation will be addressed in executive session, but councilors shouldn’t jeopardize the situation by discussing details of it in public.

City Attorney Erik Stumpfel is expected to participate in the July 7 meeting in person or by phone to answer councilors’ questions on their legal role in a potential personnel investigation, City Manager Michael Starn said.

At Starn’s request, Stumpfel drafted a memo earlier this week sent to councilors laying out their role in an investigation.

Starn said the memo was informational, and it’s not an admission that there is a pending investigation into Nason or anyone else. But if there was an inquiry, he said he couldn’t comment on it.

In the memo, Stumpfel says while the city manager has disciplinary oversight over employees he appoints, such as the police chief, the council could become a part of the process if future actions are appealed by the employee being disciplined.

City policy says the council’s Personnel Committee would oversee a fired employee’s grievance hearing. In order to guard against bias in that potential hearing, Stumpfel said councilors shouldn’t “disclose information concerning pending employee investigations or hearings.”

Starn has said he didn’t tell councilors of the police investigation after he learned about it last spring to protect police officials’ privacy. However, councilors received anonymous letters about the investigation this May, and they discussed the situation with Starn during an executive session at a meeting that month.

But Lindley said after that, he and other councilors didn’t know certain details of the case, including specifics of the incident leading to the allegation against Nason, until they read them in the newspaper.

“The first goal,” Lindley said, “should just be for the council to be better informed.”

Stearns said he wants “to send a loud and clear message that the Hallowell Police Department will remain a champion for those who have complaints.”

“My focus in the long term is to ensure Hallowell is a safe place for people to come forward with cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” he said.

Already, some elected officials have already suggested rule changes that experts have told the Kennebec Journal could guard against future inappropriate workplace relationships.

Mayor Mark Walker has said the city should consider adopting a policy to guard against supervisor-staff relationships, while Lindley said councilors should consider expanding training around domestic violence, sexual harassment and other issues.

Both Nason and the officer have admitted through attorneys that they had a sexual relationship before the 2013 incident that drew the allegations. Nason says the encounter that is alleged to be assault was consensual, but the officer maintains it was not and says she was too intoxicated to consent.

Carolyn Ball, a public policy and management professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service in Portland, suggested municipalities adopt dating policies and making employees aware of the grievance process.

Even if there’s no personnel investigation into Nason’s activities, “that doesn’t mean the policies couldn’t be reviewed,” she said.

“It’s perfectly valid to do it across departments, making people aware,” Ball said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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