The Hallowell City Council has reappointed police Chief Eric Nason to his post for another year, but two council members continue to express concerns about his service.

Councilors Alan Stearns and Phillip Lindley voted against his reappointment as chief during Hallowell’s inauguration earlier this month. The council voted 4-2 in favor of his reappointment.

Nason has been Hallowell’s police chief for nearly 12 years. In 2013, a female officer working for Nason filed a sexual assault complaint against the chief, which was investigated by the Maine State Police. State police closed the case in late 2013 without filing any charges against Nason.

“It’s an old story, but it’s a continuing story,” Lindley said. “That’s why I didn’t vote for him.”

Lindley and Stearns have voted against Nason’s reappointment each of the last three years during the inauguration. Stearns said via email that he preferred that the staff hiring decisions be addressed through confidential personnel proceedings rather than in a public forum.

According to the city’s charter, the city manager decides whether to reappoint the police chief every year, and then the council votes to accept or reject the appointment. At its Jan. 4 meeting, the council voted to reappoint Nason to a one-year contract that will pay him $59,827.

“I’ll continue to privately share my concerns about the chief’s leadership and managerial capacities with his supervisor, the city manager,” Stearns said in an email.

Nason said he wasn’t surprised by the opposition.

“I don’t have any control over how the council votes, so I really don’t know why they vote the way they do,” Nason said from his office in Hallowell’s City Hall. “It’s not my job to figure out why they vote that way, and I try not to look into it or second guess their votes.”

Stefan Pakulski became Hallowell’s city manager last September and was not working for the city during the investigation into Nason. He said his judgment has to be based on current and direct experience.

“The basis on which I make that decision is mostly based on my sense of the person and the time I’ve spent with them,” Pakulski said. “In the time that I’ve been manager, I had no reason to do anything other than reappoint (Nason) as chief.”

Stearns said he hopes the Charter Commission would repeal the requirement that the council vote on personnel issues.

“The council has more work to do to improve policies and procedures regarding management of litigation and personnel,” according to the email from Stearns.

Lindley said the police chief has to exercise good leadership and supervision, “and the majority of the council thinks he can do that.” He said he spoke with Nason the day after the inauguration and had a long conversation.

“I told him what I expected of him,” Lindley said. “We will see how this year goes, and who knows? Maybe next year the vote will be unanimous.”

Nason said the conversation with Lindley was helpful and positive and something he can look back on throughout the year. But he said he tries not to focus on the negative votes too much because he has a job to do.

“The most important thing is to look out for the residents (of Hallowell),” Nason said, adding that in his 27 years on the force, “I have always been committed and loyal to my residents and business owners. That’s the only thing I know.”

Pakulski has spent time managing other towns in Maine, including Readfield, but he said this is the first time he’s had to appoint a police chief.

“It’s the first time I’ve had this type of arrangement,” he said. “What’s in somebody’s file is important, but there were decisions made (about Nason) that predated me.”

Michael Starn, Hallowell’s city manager at the time of the Nason investigation, was criticized by some for the way the situation was handled, though at the time there was nothing in Hallowell’s personnel policy that prohibited Nason from having a relationship with a subordinate.

In June 2014, the Kennebec Journal reported that Nason had been investigated by the Maine State Police in 2013 after the officer claimed he had assaulted her sexually. That four-month investigation ended without charges being filed against the chief, who admitted a consensual sexual relationship with the officer. She maintained that she was too drunk to consent to sex with Nason in an incident at his camp.

In October 2014 in response to the allegations, the council passed a city policy prohibiting romantic or sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates and to have mandatory sexual harassment training for all city employees.

After publicity around the allegation involving the officer, another woman told Hallowell officials that Nason had taken a pornographic picture of her as she slept while they dated in 1997. A private investigator hired by the city to look into the Rome woman’s claim said that while Nason admitted having seen the photo, he said he didn’t recall taking it.

Starn later gave Nason a written reprimand for “lack of judgment” in both cases.

“It was poor judgment, but it was not illegal,” Mayor Mark Walker said. “Most people view this as an issue that has come and gone.”

Pakulski said the city dealt with the issue at the time and made a decision, but that some councilors “will vote their conscience on every issue, as well they should. I’m glad our council operates in that way.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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