Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton believes her decision to send Assistant City Administrator Bill Baker to sensitivity training is the best way forward for the city, following the furor that erupted when a disparaging email sent by Baker was made public.

Hilton and Baker released formal apologies – Baker’s second – last Thursday, saying they were “recommitting” to the community. In Baker’s statement, he said he would be enrolling in professional development training at the NTL Institute in Maryland, which will include “strategies for improved self-awareness, resolving interpersonal conflict, sensitivity training and effective communication skills.”

According to its website, NTL Institute “provides nonprofit leaders the skills to increase their confidence and accountability.”

Hilton said Tuesday that the training would be paid for by the city, which is standard for any employee training.

The public release of the profanity-laced email, which mocked several members of the community, at a City Council meeting earlier this month led to public calls for Baker’s resignation, and the Westbrook City Council met in executive session last week to discuss the matter. Prior to the closed-door meeting, residents on hand both condemned and supported Baker.

Hilton, who initially received the email in February, used her statement last week to both apologize to the community for the remarks in the email and to clarify her initial response.

“When we see a problem, we try to solve it,” she said, referring to her initial reaction to Baker’s “frustration” seen in the email. “However, I am particularly concerned that the eventual public disclosure of this or any similar communication hurts and unfairly criticizes the members of the Westbrook community discussed in the communication. For that harm and hurt, I accept full responsibility and offer my apology to all those who were affected and to all those who have been offended.”

In the statement, she said “awareness, counseling and formal training” are all a part of her response, which she said occurred in February.

Hilton said that since the statements were released, she has received “overwhelming” support from the business community, but has also received a “mixed bag” from constituents.

“I’ve never governed or managed based on public opinion, I do it based on what I think is the best thing to do,” she said Tuesday about her decision. “People won’t agree, but I’m trying to do the best I can for the city.”

In last week’s statement, she said City Administrator Jerre Bryant will make available employee training on “all forms of communication,” including email and social media.

“We all could benefit from education on electronic communication,” she said Tuesday about city employees. Hilton said she didn’t know when Baker would be attending the training, but that “it will be happening.”

In the February email, Baker said he was writing what he “wanted to say” in response to an inquiry from Michael Shaughnessy, the president of the Friends of the Presumpscot River organization, about a recently installed sculpture project along the riverwalk.

The email also names Westbrook artist Caren Michel, who serves on the city’s Arts & Culture Committee; James Tranchemontagne, the owner of the Frog & Turtle restaurant; Deb Shangraw, who owns Emerald Property Management; City Councilor Mike Sanphy, My Place Teen Center Executive Director Donna Dwyer; and Sappi Fine Paper.

The email was read publicly at a council meeting by Shangraw, who had acquired a series of city emails through a Freedom of Information Act request. Hilton said that since the email was released, more requests have been made to the city for very specific pieces of information, which she called “targeted and inappropriate.”

Released in conjunction with Hilton’s statement last week was a statement from Baker.

“I would like to formally apologize again to the city of Westbrook and the community members we serve who expect and deserve better,” he said. “I have let you all down and I am sorry.”

Baker ended his apology by stating that he would restore the community’s confidence and “earn back any lost trust.”

Hilton’s statement also references health issues experienced by Baker around the time of the email, as well as the national news surrounding police officer deaths. Baker was the Westbrook chief of police until 2012.

Michel said this week she still believes Baker should resign.

“I think the sensitivity training might have been appropriate back in February when the event occurred, and now it’s only occurring because it went public,” she said. “If that was the solution, why did it have to wait three months?”

Hilton said her reaction came in February, not from recent pressure after the email was released, adding that her discipline of an employee is a personnel matter, which is normally confidential.

“Action happened in February,” she said. “The fact that someone is bringing it out now – I’m not going to double-flog someone – because they happen to know about it.”

Hilton added that she has also personally contacted those named in the email to apologize.

“I still think he should resign, the damage has been done,” Michel said.

However, she said if that doesn’t happen, all parties still need to “work together in a positive way.”

Councilor Michael Foley, who was present during the council’s executive session last week, which discussed Baker’s email, said the council is limited in what it can, and should, do in response to employee discipline.

Both Shangraw and Tranchemontagne, among others, called on the council to act if Hilton was not planning to ask Baker to resign.

“It’s not within our role or responsibility to manage employees,” Foley said. “It would be completely out of scope for the council to pass a resolve asking for an employee to be fired.”

Foley said such action could result in a lawsuit.

Both Hilton’s and Baker’s statements last week also refer to more than one email, although only the one controversial message has been made public so far.

In his statement, Baker says, “I have let some stress and frustration affect my internal email communication in the workplace. This has resulted in some number of emails that are clearly inappropriate for a public servant.”

Hilton’s statement said Baker’s frustration led to some “internal communications, unwritten and written.”

Michel said the references to multiple emails or communications is “puzzling and troubling.”

Hilton said that since the email was made public, city officials have received dozens of emails from members of the Westbrook business community, supporting Baker. The emails were forwarded to the American Journal, and include at least 29 messages from business owners, property owners and citizens.


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