HALLOWELL — Before a friendly crowd on Monday night, Police Chief Eric Nason, fighting to keep his job, apologized to city councilors for a relationship with a subordinate who accused him of sexual assault last year.

Nason, 49, told councilors that his “lack of judgment” has hurt his family and caused “embarrassment to the community that I love.”

“If I could go back in time, I assure you I would,” he said.

When he finished, most in the overflow crowd of more than 30 people applauded at a City Hall meeting that effectively turned into a public hearing on Nason. A dozen members of the public – among them his tearful partner of 10 years, friends and downtown business owners – spoke glowingly on his behalf.

“I was very moved by Eric’s comments tonight,” said Carolyn Manson of Second Street. “I thought his apology was sincere and well-meaning, and I accept his apology.”

This year, two allegations of sexual misconduct against Nason became public. That has led to a debate on the council about the chief’s annual reappointment, which has been recommended by City Manager Michael Starn but is subject to a majority vote of the seven-member council at a meeting Jan. 2.

In June, the Kennebec Journal reported that the Maine State Police investigated the 22-year-old female officer’s complaint of sexual assault against Nason. The incident occurred in June 2013 after a night of drinking at the chief’s camp in West Gardiner. Nason wasn’t charged when the case was closed in October.

Before the council, the chief reiterated a stance he has long asserted through an attorney: The encounter that drew the allegation was consensual. Through an attorney, the officer has maintained that she was too drunk to consent. The two still work together, but Nason told councilors “that this situation never affected my role as police chief.”

“I remained professional and forged ahead with my responsibilities, even though an allegation was made against me that was clearly untrue,” he said.

Nason didn’t mention another allegation from a Rome woman, now 44, who went to city officials in June after the encounter with the subordinate became public. The Rome woman said that when she dated Nason in 1997, he took a pornographic picture of her as she slept.

In September, Starn reprimanded Nason for “lack of judgment” in both cases. That letter says that Nason told a private investigator hired by the city that he saw, but didn’t recall taking, the picture when that woman confronted him about it.

The city manager chided Nason in the letter for not referring the woman to law enforcement, calling the incident “humiliating and degrading,” but took no action against the chief.

In November, Starn announced that he would renominate Nason, saying he was taking Nason’s whole career – which includes more than 25 years in the department and nearly a decade as chief – into consideration.

Nason’s situation has led to change in Hallowell. In October, the council voted to ban relationships between city supervisors and subordinates and mandated sexual harassment training for all employees.

At Monday’s meeting, the Kennebec Journal’s publicity of the allegations drew ire from many Hallowell residents who spoke. They included Larry Davis, a former city councilor from The Ledges who said the newspaper “has punished Eric Nason way beyond any reasonable expectation.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and I’d really urge you to show some kindness and approve him as your chief going forward,” Davis said.

Dottie Perry, Nason’s 10-year partner, said the publicity has hurt her. However, she endorsed the chief’s reappointment, saying he was a good man and policeman.

“Even though he made a mistake,” Perry said through tears, “I have not turned my back on him, and I hope you can all follow my lead and not turn your back on him.”

After the public discussion, councilors didn’t tip their hands on where they’ll stand on Nason’s job in January. But Councilor George Lapointe warned that it shouldn’t be a “popularity contest,” and councilors must use their best judgment.

“If it was all just counting heads, we could all be home now,” he said. “But that’s not the case.”