BATH — City Manager Bill Giroux accepted blame Wednesday for Bath’s illegal handling of a controversial real estate sale, saying he gave bad advice to elected officials about how to handle public disclosure of the deal.

During a Bath City Council meeting Wednesday night, Giroux said the city’s improprieties, described in a recently released report by an independent investigator and former judge, were “mostly my fault.”

“I certainly feel that I didn’t give the council the best guidance,” he said during the meeting. “I apologize to the council.”

The investigation by retired Maine Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley found no evidence of corruption but did identify a number of mistakes by city officials that included a violation of the state’s Freedom of Access Act.

It occurred in April, when the Bath City Council voted informally during a budget meeting to list for sale the city-owned MidCoast Center for Higher Education, Crowley’s 30-page report said.

No advance public notice was given about the vote, as is required by state law, it said.

“There is no question that the City Manager failed to provide public notice that the April 8, 2013, budget meeting would involve a discussion of real estate matters in general or (MidCoast Center) in particular,” the report said.

Crowley also found that city officials failed to properly notify residents about two closed, executive sessions in January and February 2013 to discuss a possible sale of the building.

The executive sessions were legal, his report said, but the council should have been specific in saying they were being conducted to discuss the MidCoast Center sale.

The council hired Crowley in October to investigate the building’s sale after a handful of city residents complained that the process had been unfair and improper. Crowley reviewed all related documents, communication and meetings, and he interviewed city staff, all nine councilors and some outspoken critics of the sale.

Bath officials sold the office building, a former hospital valued at $6.5 million by the city assessor’s office, for $799,000 in April after receiving an offer from a Phippsburg-based developer, Robert Smith. The property was neither appraised nor listed for sale publicly to generate competing bids.

City officials have said MidCoast Center had been losing tenants to a newer office development at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, and that the property had become a financial burden to the city.

Critics of the sale say the property is worth at least $1 million. Since buying MidCoast Center, Smith has listed it for sale for $1.65 million.

Most councilors offered their reactions to the entire MidCoast saga, which has stretched on for months and generated a great deal of anger and criticism directed at Bath officials.

Councilor David Sinclair, who frequently broke ranks with the rest of the council over its decisions to withhold information about the sale, urged the public to read the investigator’s report and keep a close eye on the conduct of city officials.

“We had some very clear violations of state law and the municipal code,” Sinclair said.

Councilor Sean Paulhus said city officials need to work harder to cooperate and share information with the public.

“This is definitely a lesson,” Paulhus said.

Only one resident spoke during public comment, asking if Giroux and other city officials would be held accountable.

“I assure you that all personnel matters related to this will be dealt with in executive session,” Council Chairwoman Mari Eosco said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-791-6390 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson