Town grapples with police issues
GOULDSBORO — Town Manager Andrea Sirois informed the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night that she plans to step down when her contract expires this June. After an executive session, during which she made her plans known, selectmen unanimously voted to advertise for a new town manager through the Maine Municipal Association.
Dana Rice, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, confirmed the 5-0 vote, saying Sirois cited the strain of the coronavirus pandemic and wanting to be closer to her family on the West Coast as reasons for her departure.
“She has done a great job and we hate to lose her, but it’s a process we are going to have to go through,” Rice said Wednesday.
Reached Wednesday morning, Sirois said being far away from family, medical issues and COVID-related pressures led her not to seek renewal of her contract when it expires in June. She regrets not being able to attend the town’s veterans’ dinner, tree lighting and other community functions in normal times. She considers it an honor to have worked with talented staff members and especially prized having former Town Manager Eve Wilkinson as her mentor. She also praised the selectmen, saying, “I really think they have the pulse of the town and doing what’s best for the town.”
Gouldsboro’s town office reopened Monday after being closed since March 17 following an employee’s positive test for coronavirus the day before. Canceling their March 18 meeting due to COVID-19, selectmen instead convened a special meeting Tuesday night. There, they decided next week to take up the issue of whether to budget for a police chief and one full-time police officer or two part-time reserve officers. The matter will be discussed as part of their regular meeting on Thursday, April 1, at 6 p.m.
At present, Gouldsboro employs Police Chief John Shively and full-time officer Adam Brackett. Officer Philip Sargent serves on a per-diem basis. Until his Feb. 19 resignation, Eli Brown had worked as a part-time officer for 3.5 years for the town but stepped down due to irreconcilable differences with the police chief and the town manager.
Brackett was rehired by the town last fall after having been fired several weeks earlier. An individual had accused the officer of misuse of credentials, slander and dissemination of confidential information. In the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office’s subsequent investigation, conducted at the town of Gouldsboro’s request, those allegations were found to be false, but the officer was issued a written warning for unauthorized use of the Spillman database system for conducting background checks.
Last September, Brown and Brackett issued a “vote of no confidence” in Shively and Sirois. At the time, the officers expressed their unwillingness to work under the police chief. In his eight-page resignation letter, which was heavily redacted and posted online last week by the Bangor Daily News, Brown accused Sirois of inconsistent treatment and disciplining of town employees among other things.
Last October, Brown was reprimanded for insubordination after refusing to participate in an internal mediation process. In the Oct. 8 letter, Sirois said the process is “to put a conscious and honest effort into solving departmental issues related to a ‘vote of no confidence’ that was filed with the town” in September.
Sirois declined to comment or elaborate on the officers’ grievances and “no confidence vote” expressed last fall.
Last September, Sirois conducted an investigation into various issues raised concerning Shively. One issue concerned secretarial work and the police chief was verbally warned and required to undergo sexual harassment training, according to Sirois’s Sept. 23, 2020, final report, which was made available to The American following a Freedom of Access request on Friday, March 19.
Another complaint concerned Shively’s interaction at the K-eighth grade Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor. For nearly a year, the police chief has pre-recorded from his office weekly “Stories with the Chief” read-alouds, which are listened to remotely by school-age children and their families.
In response to the complaint, Sirois carried out an investigation concluding that Shively conducted himself professionally in his dealings with the school. In response to her inquiry, the town manager received “positive feedback of how the school had benefited from John’s work,” according to Sirois’s Sept. 23, 2020, findings.
In the Sept. 23 report, administrative work was cited as another issue. In her final report, Sirois reiterated that Shively is responsible for paperwork and his salary reflects that. The town manager further noted that “This is a working police chief position, so road hours are necessary, but there needs to be a balance.” She cited temporary secretarial assistance as one possible solution to be paid from the Police Department budget.