BANGOR — One of the contentions in Nate Young’s federal lawsuit against the town of Bar Harbor is that town councilors illegally entered executive sessions to discuss his status while he was on leave while an investigation was underway into an incident that led to his termination as police chief.
Maine law surrounding executive sessions in which specific details of personnel matters, and or an employee’s conduct, are discussed allows for that person to be present in the closed session or to request that the discussion be held in open session.
Officials are allowed to discuss the status of pending legal matters behind closed doors.
Specifically, Young alleges councilors violated the law during numerous executive sessions held roughly between the Sept. 25, 2013 and the Feb. 26, 2014 Town Council hearing that upheld the town manager’s decision to fire Young.
Mark Franco of Thompson Bowie LLC of Portland, who represents the town, maintains Young is interpreting the law regarding executive sessions incorrectly. There was no specific discussion of Young that could be considered directly related to his employment.
“The evidence is unequivocal,” Franco said, explaining that notes prepared by then-Town Manager Dana Reed for the executive sessions indicate otherwise.
Those notes, contained in affidavits filed in connection with the case, show that councilors were being told that an independent investigator had been hired to investigate the September incident where two Bar Harbor police officers responded to a report of a truck parked at the Town Hill Market with a man slumped over in the driver’s seat and found that the man was Young, according to Franco. In other executive sessions, councilors were updated on Young’s leave of absence, he said.
As a result of the Town Hill incident, Reed, on Oct. 1, 2013, placed Young on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. About two weeks later, Young’s attorney notified the town that his client had been admitted to a substance abuse treatment facility and was seeking a leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, which counselors later approved.
Young’s allegation of illegal executive sessions is supported in part in the testimony of two former councilors who were deposed in July as part of the lawsuit. The depositions were filed last month in U.S. District Court. The councilors, Christopher Walsh and Robert Garland, were in the minority in the 5-2 vote that upheld Young’s termination.
Walsh and Garland estimated that between 12 and 14 executive sessions had been held where they were informed of the status of Young’s case.
Walsh testified that he voted not to enter executive session at two of those meetings, saying he did so to support Garland’s objections.
“I just felt it truly wasn’t a personnel matter,” he said.
Walsh said he voted to enter executive session on the other occasions because he did not fully understand the law.
“I did vote to go in them because I didn’t feel that it was appropriate for us to be discussing personnel matters in public,” he said.
Garland, in his deposition, said he had concerns about how the executive sessions were conducted. In particular, Garland said he had concerns about comments allegedly made during the sessions by Councilors David Bowden, Paul Paradis and Peter St. Germain and Ruth Eveland, who he claims already had made their minds up about Young’s fate even before the investigation was completed. Paradis, St. Germain and Bowden were not deposed by Young’s attorney.