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District attorney asks for human resources probe of Lincoln County

By Stephen Betts | Apr 17, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts District Attorney Natasha Irving was sworn into office Jan. 1, 2019 by Elizabeth Mitchell.

Wiscasset — The district attorney who serves the four Midcoast Maine counties said the county administrator and commissioners kept her out of the loop on personnel matters affecting her department, creating a hostile work environment.

District Attorney Natasha Irving is asking the county to hire an independent human resources investigator to look into the workplace environment.

Irving was elected district attorney in November 2018, marking the first time a Democrat had won the seat, and the first time a woman has served as district attorney for Lincoln, Knox, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties.

Irving said she believes she is being treated this way because of her age, gender and politics. She campaigned on a progressive platform and said she has heard from third parties that county officials consider her to be a socialist and a feminist.

Irving said after she was elected, but before she formally took office, the county administrator went into the district attorney's office to tell employees that Irving was not their boss, and instead they report to the county administrator. That created an uncomfortable situation for the employees, because they were uncertain who their boss was.

Irving said in April 2020 she learned through a general email sent to county employees that a victim witness advocate had been hired for her Lincoln County office. She said the email was a "welcome aboard" message.

"I had no idea they were handling applications or interviews," she said.

The hiring was done through the county administrator and county commissioners while Irving was working remotely, following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said it was ludicrous that they did not notify her of the hiring process. She said even if not for the pandemic, she would not always be in the Lincoln County office since she has four offices — one in each county.

Irving said she was told by the county administrator that this oversight would not happen again.

But in December 2020, when the county was seeking to fill a victim witness advocate for juveniles, she learned from a third party that the county scheduled interviews. Irving said she emailed the commissioners and county administrator repeatedly, but received no response.

She said up to the day of the interviews, she was not sent the link to the online interviews.

In the end, she was able to review the first round of interviews, then participated in the second round of interviews. The prosecutor said the questions being asked by the county officials in the first round had little relevance to the position.

"They were excluding me purposefully," Irving said. The prosecutor said it was important for her to be involved in the hiring because the people who work in the office must be trusted with important, confidential legal matters.

In addition, Irving said while she was on maternity leave earlier in 2021, her employees were again told she was not their boss. Her victim witness advocates were also instructed not to attend a meeting with her in Rockland.

The district attorney also said an issue has arisen with one of the employees in her department. Irving said she could not comment publicly on specifics of the personnel matter, but the county administrator has declined to provide her the person's personnel file.

She said the county's actions violate their own hiring policies.

Irving has asked the county to hire a human resources specialist to look into the situation. She said her entire staff feels the county has created a hostile work environment.

When contacted April 15 about how the hiring process works in Lincoln County, County Administrator Carrie Kipfer said she would need to consult with the county's lawyer before commenting. Email questions were also sent to Kipfer April 16 about the allegations made by the district attorney. There has been no response.

Commission Chairman William Blodgett said the issue of hiring has become a personnel matter and therefore he could not comment on it.

Blodgett acknowledged that when employees for the Sheriff's Department are hired, the sheriff is allowed to be involved in the process. He said the district attorney can offer "advice" when it comes to hiring in her department. Blodgett did not explain why it was different between hiring in the sheriff's office and district attorney's office.

Irving said her relationship with county officials in the three other counties in the prosecutorial district are good.

When Irving was sworn into office Jan. 1, 2019, she said while being the first Democrat and first woman elected in the prosecutorial district, the real history would be made through reforming the criminal justice system.

"As district attorney, I can't be neutral in the face of mass incarceration. I cannot be neutral in the face of the prosecution of the sick for being sick, or the poor for being poor. I cannot be neutral amidst a culture of sexual violence," Irving said on the day of her swearing-in.

"We have to take a stand, and today is the day we begin to take action. I'm ready to use these four years for a new era in criminal justice," she said.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Seth Hall | Apr 19, 2021 16:12

While many of us Lincoln County residents feel that Natasha Irving brought a breath of fresh air to the District Attorney's office, others unfortunately felt a chill wind blowing, and are apparently reacting to same. Such is often the case when real change threatens the status quo and the 'powers-that-be'. Notwithstanding, we are a land of laws, and the county administrator certainly seems to be on tenuous ground re her chronic and highly questionable behavior.

Let's hope that Ms. Irving can find a way to negotiate these turbulent waters, and bring her not insignificant personal and professional skills to bear in resolving this situation to the benefit of all Lincoln County residents.



Posted by: Harold Bryson Mosher | Apr 19, 2021 03:08

There are efforts at the municipal level to reestablish a certain ideological purity as well.  The Empire strikes back.

 



Posted by: Don Dickinson | Apr 18, 2021 11:59

The commissioners and administrator in Lincoln County better get their s--t together or she'll be prosecuting them.



Posted by: Claire Adams | Apr 18, 2021 11:25

As a tax payer, I expect an answer to this question

Blodgett did not explain why it was different between hiring in the sheriff's office and district attorney's office.




Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Apr 18, 2021 11:02

Seemingly dirty tactics aren't only practiced at the senate and congressional levels but mini-me Moscow Mitch's pervade from the top of government on down at many locations and levels. Stand your ground D.A Irving....



Posted by: Charlotte Davenhill | Apr 18, 2021 07:49

A probe sounds like just the thing! We're fortunate to have such a smart, courageous, and fair-minded district attorney as Natasha Irving.

 



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