The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Robert Reed of Cape Neddick is a former member of the board of directors of NAMI Maine.
Serving in the roles as committee chairs, vice president and president of NAMI Maine’s board of directors for more than seven years, I worked closer with Jenna Mehnert than any other current or former board members of NAMI Maine. Mehnert and I spoke regularly about the agency’s operations and the unique challenges of running NAMI Maine.
Previous reporting by the Bangor Daily News highlighted the concerns of former NAMI Maine staff specific to Mehnert. As a result of those concerns, a three-month comprehensive internal review was completed by an outside entity. While the report is a confidential personnel document, Mehnert shared a statement created by her attorney that outlined the findings she was legally permitted to share. The results of the review determined that Mehnert did not create a hostile work environment. The review also determined that interactions depicted in the previous BDN article between former staff and Mehnert, when fully examined, fell within the range of appropriate staff supervision.
Mehnert agrees with the report finding that she did not always follow best practice human resource standards, which certainly played a role in staff turnover. It is significant to note that during her tenure, the board of directors of NAMI Maine did not collectively prioritize the employment of a qualified human resources staff person, even though Mehnert raised concerns about her limited human resource knowledge several times. There were, however, other contributing factors found to be outside Mehnert’s control in addition to the lack of HR support, which has been an historic challenge for NAMI Maine dating back before my arrival on the board.
Mehnert was hired as the CEO shortly before I joined the board in 2014. I can attest that during my tenure on the board, no legal action was filed by any current or former staff, against NAMI Maine for any reason, including the management of the agency.
Mehnert excelled in the areas related to her experience and education. She increased the diversity of programming at the agency, significantly increased the agency’s budget, passionately advanced mental health legislation and engaged on a national level with the issue of diverting people with mental illness from the criminal justice system. In addition to the policy, fundraising, program development and training work that Mehnert did to fulfill the mission of NAMI Maine, she was the driving force behind moving NAMI Maine forward as a professional advocacy agency that was well respected within the state Legislature and the communities it so passionately serves.
My family has donated to the advocacy work of NAMI Maine, in part, because of Mehnert’s leadership and passion. After being engaged in the process surrounding the internal review and her resignation, we will be looking for another organization to support. I truly believed in the work that Mehnert was doing, but without significant changes within the organizational structure, which were not highlighted in the Bangor Daily News articles, we cannot in good conscience continue to contribute to NAMI Maine. The work at NAMI Maine is so important to those struggling with mental health challenges in our state. It is unfortunate this kind of journalism has done more harm than good, in my opinion, and nothing to acknowledge the challenging work NAMI Maine does throughout Maine.