ELLSWORTH — A decision was reached Friday in the legal battle between the Town of Bar Harbor and its former police chief that has stretched more than four years. His complaint against the town was denied in Hancock County Superior Court.
Judge Bruce Mallonee upheld former Town Manager Dana Reed’s decision to fire Nate Young in 2014 and the town council’s subsequent vote to affirm his termination.
Young failed to prove that he had been deprived of due process, the judge found. Additional claims by Young that the town breached his employment contract and violated the state Freedom of Access Act were dismissed.
In his written decision, Mallone noted “the burdens—in time, money, and emotion—that all the participants in this extended dispute have had to bear.”
“Chief Young’s career of dedicated and effective public service should be recognized,” he wrote. “So should Mr. Reed’s.”
Young was fired after an investigator hired by the town concluded that the police chief was intoxicated and acted inappropriately toward two police officers the night of Sept. 25, 2013.
After Young was fired, he filed an appeal with the town council. At the appeals hearing in February 2014, councilors voted 5-2 to uphold Reed’s decision.
Young subsequently filed a complaint in state court, which later was transferred to federal court. A federal judge dismissed all but three of Young’s claims, which were considered to be state issues. Those issues – a Rule 80 administrative review of the town’s decision to fire him, breach of contract and that town councilors violated Maine’s Freedom of Access Act by holding executive sessions where his situation was discussed without the opportunity for him to attend – were those before Mallonee.
Testimony in the matter was heard Nov. 1 and 2 and Dec. 7, 2017.
At the trial, Young’s attorneys Gregg Frame and Ilse Teeters-Trumpy of Taylor, McCormack and Frame of Portland sought to demonstrate that some town councilors were unable to render a fair decision in the 2014 hearing due to a “predetermined mindset” against Young.
Mallonnee noted that “unsubstantiated allegations” about Young’s “alcohol consumption, a sexual affair and an altercation at [his] home that might have involved domestic violence or related conduct” were circulating before the September 2013 event.
“Neither the termination hearing before the Town Council nor the parties’ presentations at trial explored the accuracy of these allegations,” the judge wrote. “All of them may have been generated more by the process of small-town suspicion and gossip than by reality. Their significance for this action is that they did in fact circulate and had entered the awareness of both the town manager and the councilor by the time of the single event that triggered [Young’s] dismissal.”
The judge found that the councilors’ deliberations were not improperly influenced by their existing knowledge or opinions.
“Throughout the events leading up to the hearing at which they voted, the five councilors who eventually voted to uphold Mr. Reed’s decision were no more advocative of their positions than the two who voted to overturn the decision,” he wrote.
Mallonee found the council did not deprive Young of due process or violate the Freedom of Access Act in its several executive sessions discussing the investigation and termination.
“Plaintiff’s concerns [about the executive sessions] are not unreasonable,” the judge wrote. “All were explored at trial, at length, and shown to be unfounded.”
Mark Franco of the Portland law firm Drummond Woodsum represented the town at the trial.