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John Hiatt has resigned from the Bangor school committee. Using the same reasoning his lawyer provided for that decision, he should also resign his position as Penobscot County treasurer.
Hiatt was first arrested and charged with harassment and stalking of a local 34-year-old woman in May. He has denied those charges and was released on bail. He had said he would still seek reelection to the school board and county treasurer seat.
Then earlier this month, Hiatt was charged with posession of child pornography. He again denies the charge and is free on bail, but has resigned from the school board.
“Due to the nature of the allegation… Mr. Hiatt will resign from his position with the Bangor School Committee because he does not wish to present a distraction,” Hiatt’s lawyer, Harris Mattson, said on Aug. 6. “He intends to maintain his position as Penobscot County Treasurer.”
If Hiatt did not wish to present a distraction on the school board, surely he doesn’t wish to present a distraction to county government, either. The same reasoning in this statement, when applied to his role as treasurer, should similarly result in him resigning this other elected position.
We asked Mattson this week if he or Hiatt would like to provide additional comment, as we tried to understand why this reasoning wouldn’t extend to Hiatt’s role as treasurer.
“The Bangor Daily News should promote due process of law and apply the presumption of innocence in every case, regardless of the nature of the charge or the defendant’s position in the community,” Mattson responded.
This is a particularly bad time for distractions in Penobscot County government. As with other counties across the state and country, there are big decisions to be made about how to spend millions in federal relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Democrats in Congress. Penobscot County is receiving nearly $30 million.
This is a generational opportunity to invest in the county and its people, and smartly position county services for the future. This situation brings both great promise and a need for careful and transparent deliberation. The distraction added by Hiatt’s situation can only complicate this pivotal moment for county government.
Consider the bail conditions following his child pornography possesion charge. Hiatt is to have no contact with minors, not to be at schools, playgrounds or anywhere where minors congregate and not to possess any device that can connect to the internet. The first three create obvious conflicts for someone serving on a school board. But in terms of the fourth condition, how is a county official in the 21st century going to do the job they were elected to do without being able to possess any device that can connect to the internet?
Even before this most recent charge, Penobscot County commissioners had appointed Judith Alexander to be deputy treasurer in case Hiatt was unable to fulfill his duties. It’s time for this distraction to end.
Hiatt has been open about his autism and how it leads to challenges as an elected official. This fact does complicate the situation, but is not an excuse for Hiatt’s alleged actions.
We are far from the first to call for Hiatt, a Republican, to resign. The chair of the Maine Republican Party, Demi Kouzounas, did so less than 24 hours after his second arrest.
“I am deeply troubled by the allegations against John Hiatt,” Kouzounas said. “While John will have his day in court, he should do what is best for his community and resign from all political positions immediately.”
All three of the Penobscot County commissioners — Peter Baldacci, Andre Cushing and Laura Sanborn — released a statement last week calling on Hiatt to resign.
“Last week’s disturbing allegations against Mr. Hiatt for possession of child pornography, along with the allegations against him in May for stalking and harassment, make it impossible for him to fulfill his duties as County Treasurer,” the commissioners said at the time. “Furthermore, nothing is more important than protecting the safety and well-being of County employees and visitors to our facilities.”
Hiatt should think about what’s best for those employees, visitors and all of Penobscot County. He resigned from the school board because he did not want to be a distraction. He should do the same with his role as county treasurer.