WATERVILLE — Don Reiter said no matter what the outcome of his public hearing starting Tuesday before the Board of Education, his once-unblemished reputation as an educator and school administrator is forever tainted.

The principal of Waterville Senior High School was placed on paid administrative leave more than two months ago for reasons no one will reveal, and both school officials and police have investigated allegations against him.

Reiter, speaking for the first time in an exclusive interview with the Morning Sentinel this past week, said he has nothing to hide.

“I can say that I absolutely deny the allegation and did not do anything wrong,” Reiter said.

His attorney, Gregg Frame, said the allegations are based on a communication, rather than an event. He and Reiter are adamant Reiter should be returned to his job.

Frame, of the Portland law firm Taylor, McCormack and Frame, said he is confident Reiter will maintain his job as principal; but if he is dismissed, they will appeal within 30 days. There is no reason Reiter should be disciplined, let alone dismissed, according to Frame, who said he harbors no doubts about his client’s innocence.

“The moment I met with Don, that was never an option because of how he comported himself with me and my very pointed questions,” Frame said. “I had no doubt from the outset.”

School Superintendent Eric Haley and Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot conducted an in-house school investigation after Haley placed him on paid leave. They interviewed about 20 high school teachers and staff members, and Haley reported the case to police.

Haley and Thiboutot’s attorney, Melissa Hewey, of Drummond Woodsum, also of Portland, said no one wins in this case, which is difficult for everyone — students and school employees, administrators and others.

“I don’t see this as a matter of prevailing,” Hewey said. “Bringing this employee to the board for termination is a decision the superintendent and assistant superintendent agonized about for a long time, and so it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about having the board hear what happened and deciding what they think is in the best interest of the kids at Waterville Senior High School.”

Haley said he did not take the decision to recommend dismissal lightly.

“I can tell you it’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make as a superintendent,” he said.

Whatever the outcome, Reiter said, he has lost not only his chance for career advancement because of the situation, but he also has spent thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to defend his position.

Reiter, 44, earns about $102,000 a year.

Probably the most devastating loss has been that of his family. Reiter’s wife, Terri, filed for divorce two weeks after he was placed on leave Sept. 1.

“Our marriage couldn’t withstand the incredible stress that the fallout from this allegation has caused,” said Reiter, of Mount Vernon. “It has cost us our marriage and it is costing our 7-year-old daughter the only family she has ever known.”

He said his divorce has nothing to do with the allegations and he has tried to protect his family from the fallout. Reiter’s wife is on Frame’s list of witnesses and could testify in support of her husband, although Reiter and Frame do not know whether she will.

Reiter, looking tired and thinner than he was a few months ago, said “it’s been a very anxiety-inducing process.”

“I have lost the capacity to eat and sleep as well and as regularly as I used to,” he said. “I lost 30 pounds in the first month of leave.”

Reiter and Frame said they could not discuss the allegation or whom it involves, as they believe Reiter will be returned to his job and are aware of confidential personnel and student matters.

Frame and Reiter, in speaking with the Morning Sentinel, said they wanted a chance to talk about Reiter’s experience as an educator and relay the depth of angst and turmoil the allegations have caused him.

“Don’s reputation has been shattered by this — just by the accusation — and so I think it is important that people get the chance to see who he is,” Frame said.

The Waterville Police Department conducted a separate investigation, forwarded its report to the District Attorney’s Office, and District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says her office will not make a determination in the case until after the public hearing before the Board of Education. Haley has recommended to the board that Reiter be dismissed from his job.

That board will hold a hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the gymnasium at George J. Mitchell School on Drummond Avenue to come to its own findings. Both Haley and Frame said initially they believe the hearing will require more than one session to complete. On Saturday, Frame said most of the hearing Tuesday will be in executive, or private, session, and that a second part of the hearing will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, mostly open to the public.

Commonly in cases such as this, the accused does not fight the allegation, particularly in a public venue, but Reiter wanted the hearing open.

“I want a public hearing because I have nothing to hide and I think everything should be out there,” Reiter said.

ALLEGATION AFTERMATH

Reiter said he first got wind an allegation had been made against him on Friday, Aug. 28 — the second day of school.

Haley called Reiter the following Monday, Aug. 31, to notify him he would be placed on paid administrative leave the following day. Since then, Reiter has been busy meeting with attorneys and preparing for whatever is to come.

If, based on the evidence, the Board of Education returns him to his job, then he will go back to work and continue on. But he has been cleaning his house and organizing and making some minor improvements — just in case, he said.

“If I am not back at work and don’t have a job, I’ll have to sell my house,” he said.

Reiter said people have asked him what he has been doing the last two months, and he has been a lot busier than he expected.

“Fighting for my job is pretty much a job in and of itself, and that has taken a great deal of time as well,” he said.

A lot of faculty members at the high school support him, he said. He said he believes the faculty was told, at minimum, not to discuss the case with him and possibly not to have contact with him. While few have called him, he has received several text messages and cards in the mail expressing support, he said.

“I’ve got a great staff and I’ve been fortunate in that,” he said.

Haley said he did not tell the faculty not to contact Reiter.

“I told the faculty that anything they say could mean they’d be called in as a witness if this goes to a hearing,” Haley said. “At no time did I say they couldn’t talk to him.”

Reiter, asked whether he thinks he could have done things differently in connection with the allegation, said that, in hindsight, there are many things one could change “to stop a situation from happening after you know what has happened.”

“Sure, there are things I could have done and certainly will do, in future practice, to avoid situations like this,” he said.

Asked whether the public will learn what the allegations are at the hearing, Frame declined to answer. Because revealing the allegations would reveal confidential information, it is likely the exact nature of the allegations will not be made known, according to Frame. But the public will likely infer “a ton” from hearing the questions that are asked of witnesses, he said.

In what Frame terms “some procedural unfairness,” police, who will testify at the hearing, have not responded to his numerous requests for information in the case, although school officials have spoken with police, he said. Frame said he was, however, able to obtain from the school a video of an interview police had with Reiter’s accuser.

He said he does not know why police forwarded their report of the investigation to the district attorney’s office.

“I don’t think this merited further consideration beyond the school investigation,” he said.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said police do not discuss a criminal investigation with the person being investigated.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to do that,” Massey said. “However, all of our reports and all evidence that we collect in a particular criminal investigation, the defendant always has access to that, through discovery.”

Massey said he anticipates his officers will be called to testify at Reiter’s hearing.

Reiter said it has been more than two months since the investigation started and he remains in the dark about a lot of things.

“It’s been a process,” he said. “There’s a lot I didn’t know when I got that call (from Haley). There’s still some things I don’t know, but I know more now.”

A lot of witnesses are lined up to speak about Reiter’s character, according to Frame.

“I’ve had the burden, but also the luxury, of interviewing about 20-plus people from the school, and I can tell you that every one of them shares the desire that he be back in school as soon as possible,” he said. “Not a single person I spoke to spoke poorly of Don’s leadership and character.”

PICKING UP PIECES

If Reiter goes back to work, he said, he would work to repair “a modicum of trust” that has been lost between him and Haley and Thiboutot.

He worked closely and well with Haley and Thiboutot for eight years, but when Haley called him to try to determine the veracity of the allegation against him, everything changed, according to Reiter.

Reiter said he felt Haley disregarded the relationship Reiter had established as a fair, competent and just administrator in his years of service and dedication to the district, as well as his well-known honesty and integrity.

Reiter said he understands Haley had no choice but to conduct an investigation, but with a lack of compelling information, he thinks Haley also would have to look at Reiter’s track record.

Haley confirmed he and Reiter had a good relationship before the allegation. Reiter was hired in 2007 when the Board of Education voted 7-0 to approve a recommendation by Haley and a search committee to hire him.

“Don and I did have a good, solid working relationship,” Haley said, but he declined to comment further.

Reiter said that if he is returned to his job, he will be able to work with Haley and Thiboutot to whatever extent possible to operate the high school smoothly. “That’s going to happen, regardless of anything else,” Reiter said.

He said if he gets his job back, he will stay at the school: “I have a great job at Waterville and a great staff and student body. If I get this job back, I don’t plan on going anywhere.”

Asked how he would try to repair the lost trust and how he would move forward in his position, Reiter said he would take it as it comes, as it will be a changed atmosphere. The fact that a lot of staff members are supportive of him as an administrator will be a positive start in returning and trying to get things back to normal, he said.

“I think there are some relationships that will take longer to heal, and some that would change,” he said.

And if he loses his job?

“I’m not independently wealthy, so I’d certainly have to get another job,” he said.

Frame said when an allegation is made against a public official, that person is often seen as guilty by accusation. No matter what comes out of the hearing, there is a certain population that will consider Reiter guilty no matter what — and that is the most frustrating part of the case, he said.

But Frame thinks the fact that the police investigation took so long and no charges have been filed is a good sign. The attorney said he searched for a smoking gun and “turned over every leaf” for more than 60 days of working on the case.

“Sometimes the simplest answer is the one that’s right in front of you,” Frame said. “There’s nothing here.”

As to how he would make his case to the Board of Education, Frame said the key for him is that the board goes into the hearing with an open mind. Board members will be presented with a lot of history from before and after the allegations, he said.

“It’s my hope they’ll consider all the evidence. I think they will, and in weighing that, I don’t have much doubt that Don will be back.”

Asked if the outcome could have larger ramifications beyond Reiter’s own situation, Frame said that is possible.

“This case has the potential to create some widespread precedent in Maine, either good or bad, on how these cases are handled,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17