ELLSWORTH — The Hancock County Commissioners will not ask Sheriff Scott Kane to resign in the wake of public outcry over Kane’s cancellation of Healthy Acadia’s recovery coaching services for inmates at the jail. Kane ended the relationship with Healthy Acadia last June after the nonprofit issued a statement supporting Black Lives Matter.
To be clear, there has not been any interruption in substance abuse treatment and counseling at the jail. There was a seven-month absence of Healthy Acadia’s “recovery coaching.” The program was reinstated this month.
Recovery coaches provide an opportunity for inmates to develop an action plan for their release as well as work on recovery, according to Healthy Acadia Executive Director Elsie Flemings.
A motion made by Hancock County Commissioner John Wombacher during the board’s bimonthly meeting Tuesday failed with a vote of one in favor and two against.
Wombacher moved that the commissioners ask Kane to resign as a result of how he handled the recovery coaching situation.
“It’s a sad day for me,” Wombacher said. “All this time and energy and we’re right back at the same spot we were seven months ago. Healthy Acadia is back doing the job everyone admitted they do well. It took seven months and a public outcry to restore it.”
“From what I can tell, everyone knew it would end badly and that’s why there was so much silence among the parties,” Wombacher said.
Commissioner Paul Paradis said the office of sheriff is an elected one.
“State statute prevents us from hiring or firing or disciplining the sheriff,” said Paradis, who voted against the motion. “I feel asking him to resign is just that, disciplining him. I just think it’s improper and I won’t do it.”
Chairman Bill Clark also voted against the motion.
“No matter how egregious you believe the sheriff was in removing recovery coaching from the Hancock County Jail … they don’t even come close to the standard for meeting the threshold for removal,” Clark said.
Clark said if he asked the Governor to remove Kane and explained to her in a letter what had occurred, “she’d call me on the phone and ask me what I had been smoking.”
If Kane was removed from office, the Republican Party would be tasked with recommending replacements to Governor Janet Mills, who would make the appointment, Clark said.
“I’d rather the deal with the devil I know than the one I don’t,” he added.
Clark explained to the roughly 100 residents who attended the meeting, which was held via the online videoconferencing platform Zoom, that the board is in a “unique” position. Half the county department heads are elected, not appointed, Clark said.
“The best way to manage is to work with them in harmony and goodwill,” the chairman said. “No, I am not going to ask Scott Kane to resign as sheriff of Hancock County.”
Before the board voted, several members of the public spoke in support of asking Kane to resign while others spoke in support of him.
Jacques Newell Taylor of Bar Harbor, who identified himself as African-American, said he supports the resolution asking the sheriff to resign.
“With that much power, that is how he chose to use it,” said Newell Taylor. “That’s something that will bleed into the culture of his office. With the power he has, it’s important everyone feel protected under the law.”
David Jolly of Penobscot said, “A leader admits his mistakes and apologizes.”
“It was a mistake to deny recovery coaching services at the Hancock County Jail for more than six months,” Jolly said. “His [Kane’s] weak and vague statement does not constitute an apology. He left the commissioners’ meeting two weeks ago as soon as he read his statement. That was a failure of leadership as well.”
“I’m not sure it’s best for Sheriff Kane to resign anymore,” Jolly said. “It’s not going to do anything to reunite us. I’m not sure what the best path is at this point, but it should include an apology from Sheriff Kane and anti-racist training for the Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies.”
“When I heard of this and when I read it in the paper I was very distressed,” said Lamoine Selectman Jo Cooper, who also serves on the county’s Budget Advisory Committee.
Cooper and another selectman reached out to Kane and asked questions and afterward did “feel a lot better.”
Cooper, who is Caucasian, has four adopted children who are Black and are now adults.
“I wouldn’t even pretend to understand what their lives are like,” Cooper said. “Sheriff Kane has been fabulous with them, worked with them in the DARE program.”
“I don’t think Sheriff Kane should resign,” Cooper said. “Public safety is not a simple thing.”
Jessica Valdez of Sedgwick said she supports Kane.
“I have had the privilege to be able to provide support and services to people who are incarcerated at the Hancock County Jail and seen firsthand how the sheriff and his staff work tirelessly and frankly with little to no thanks to help improve the circumstances of the people in the jail,” Valdez said. “A more compassionate group of people I don’t think you could find, especially when you consider that they work with a challenging population. Though a service that could be useful to some was suspended it didn’t mean that every other support was cut off nor that a search for replacement was not at the top of a priority list.”
“In fact, many professional-level supports are in place in the jail,” Valdez said. “Working in the jail is not a comfortable experience; it is anxiety-provoking at best and until we have to walk in the footsteps of law enforcement who spend their days in this environment, how dare any of us presume to know what is necessary to keep them safer than the men and women who go to work every day to put their lives on the line for your family and mine.
“Asking this man who has done nothing but try to keep the people who serve us safe and providing them a supportive workplace to resign is wrong. We have a mechanism in place to remove elected officials and we are blessed to exercise it every November. Pressuring a duly elected official to resign when they have not committed a crime is a dangerous slippery slope and I dare say could come back to haunt any elected official. For any elected official who is disagreed with could be pressured to resign.”
Kane spoke briefly to thank residents for their comments and explain that he didn’t listen to those who spoke at the Feb. 2 meeting because he had a prior commitment.
The commissioners voted unanimously at the end of the meeting to send the sheriff a letter “expressing our displeasure” at the way the recovery coaching services issue was handled.