A Hallowell policy committee plans to meet Thursday night to discuss a proposed whistleblower policy and the search for a permanent code enforcement officer.

Under the proposed policy, city officials, supervisors and employees in Hallowell would be encouraged “to report good faith suspicion or observed occurrences of illegal, unethical, unsafe or inappropriate behaviors or practices without retribution.”

The Personnel and Policy Committee will meet at 5 p.m. at City Hall to review the latest draft of the policy proposal.

The whistleblower policy stems from misconduct complaints made by a city police officer against police Chief Eric Nason. After those accusations in 2013 and subsequent controversy, Hallowell’s council approved changes to its sexual harassment policy that prohibited relationships between supervisors and their employees.

“There was a big controversy around Chief Nason’s reappointment in 2015, and there were some hurt feelings and dissension among the council,” committee chairwoman Kate DuFour said Tuesday.

Around that time, DuFour said, Councilor Alan Stearns started talking about the need for a policy to protect employees and city officials who felt compelled to draw attention to certain activities that made them uncomfortable.

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

Then-City Manager Michael Starn said he heard about the state police investigation soon after it started in 2013 from members of the city Police Department, but he took no disciplinary action against Nason at the time, nor did he commission an internal or independent investigation of the matter. Meanwhile, the officer who had accused Nason continued to work for the department and to be supervised by him.

After the Kennebec Journal story, a second woman came forward to speak with Hallowell officials, alleging that Nason had taken a lewd photograph of her as she slept while they dated in 1997.

Starn subsequently reprimanded Nason in September 2014 for “lack of judgment” in both cases, and the next month councilors banned relationships between supervisors and employees and instituted mandatory sexual harassment training for all city employees.

Councilors Phillip Lindley and Stearns voted against Nason’s reappointment as police chief in both 2015 and 2016. Stearns said at the time that he preferred that the staff hiring decisions be addressed through confidential personnel proceedings rather than in a public forum.

DuFour said the task of drafting a whistleblower policy was turned over to the personnel committee shortly after Nason’s reappointment in 2015, but the committee hasn’t had much time recently to do anything other than hire city managers.

Michael Starn left Hallowell as city manager last October and was replaced by Stefan Pakulski, who died unexpectedly in March. Former Hallowell Code Enforcement Officer Maureen AuCoin acted as the interim code enforcement officer until Nate Rudy was hired in June.

“It’s been on our to-do list for at least the last 12 months,” DuFour said, “and we’re finally getting somewhere.”

Stearns had several concerns about the amended policy, including some of the language used and specifics regarding who a whistleblower would report to.

The policy says that if a whistleblower is uncomfortable or reluctant to report to a supervisor — which should be the first step — then the person may report to the city manager or the mayor. Stearns said the whistleblower could be a councilor, who shouldn’t take a complaint to a low-level supervisor.

DuFour said the city solicitor, Erik Stumpfel, and a colleague at Rudman & Winchell LLC amended the original policy. Stearns’ concerns are expected to be addressed during Thursday’s meeting, and if necessary, Stumpfel could be asked to make further changes.

After Thursday’s meeting, DuFour expects a final draft to be presented to the council at its September meeting for discussion and possibly a final vote.

DuFour, a legislative advocate at the Maine Municipal Association, said the committee used several resources when drafting the original policy, including her employee handbook, another Maine community’s whistleblower policy and an example from a nonprofit municipal organization. They ultimately chose to use the plainest and simplest language, she said.

She said Hallowell is sitting on the edge between small community government and becoming a city that will contend with others in the area such as Augusta and Gardiner, and putting new policies and procedures in place are an acknowledgment that the city is taking the next step.

“We’re on the cusp of becoming like Augusta and Gardiner, not populationwise, but services- and developmentwise,” DuFour said. “We need to take these kinds of steps and move forward.”

The committee also is expected to address the city’s search for a new code enforcement officer. Dick Dolby, who spent more than 20 years as the director of code enforcement in Augusta, has served as the interim officer since AuCoin left in June.

Rudy, DuFour said, has been thinking of how to make the position more attractive to prospective applicants. Rudy said Tuesday that the city has received applications from several people with strong credentials but without the necessary training.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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