The city of Hallowell’s investigation into claims of sexual misconduct by Police Chief Eric Nason ended last week with a letter of reprimand from City Manager Michael Starn in Nason’s file, but no further penalties. In the end, it was literally the least the city could do, and though the letter is thorough in its rebuke of Nason, it likely would never have existed if Starn hadn’t been forced to act through public pressure.

The entire mess is a reminder that municipal officials have a duty to hold public employees, particularly those in public safety, to a high standard, and to hold them accountable when they fail to meet that standard. Otherwise, employees are left without adequate protections, and taxpayers are left without faith in the institutions they support.

That is the case in Hallowell, where Starn failed to act when he was told about a state police investigation into allegations that Nason had sexually assaulted a former girlfriend, a 22-year-old Hallowell police officer who was, and remains, his subordinate.

At that point, Nason should have been suspended until the investigation was complete. He should not have been allowed to continue to manage his accuser.

Instead, Starn said he considered the allegations a personal matter concerning activities that took place “off-duty between consenting adults.” The state police, he said, would let him know if any action against Nason was warranted.

The state police probe concluded last October, without charges against Nason, and it all could have ended there.

But in May, city councilors received anonymous letters detailing the allegations against Nason, and in June, a Kennebec Journal article revealed the allegations, and subsequent city actions, to the public.

It was only then that Starn, who had never requested the results of the state police probe, initiated a serious investigation into Nason.

But by that time it was too late. By failing to act immediately, Starn was at least turning a blind eye to Nason’s relationship with an underling, which although not explicitly prohibited in city policy, is improper by any measure.

And by waiting more than a year after the initial allegation to launch an investigation, and by doing so only after the issue is made public, the resulting reprimand comes off as only a reluctant slap on the wrist.

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