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Report: Maine attorney general's workplace romance had little effect on the office

Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor acknowledges applause after he was elected to be Maine's next attorney general, Wednesday, Dec., 5, 2018, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.

A workplace assessment triggered by revelations that Attorney General Aaron Frey had a romantic relationship with a subordinate has found that the controversy had little effect on staff and employees.

The assessment by a Portland human resources firm was ordered by Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross in April, shortly after Frey disclosed his relationship in a press statement.

The review included multiple interviews with 19 employees at the attorney general's office, including Frey himself.

When asked about Frey's relationship and its effect on the workplace, the majority of the respondents described it as a brief media controversy and many dismissed the idea that it affected employee morale or the credibility of the office.

While one respondent expressed concern about reputational damage to the office, the harshest assessment came from Frey, who worried that the Legislature that twice elected him might no longer trust him.

"It is not yet determined that I will have the full trust of the legislature," he told Deb Whitworth, the consultant from Portland-based HR Studio Group, which conducted the review.

He also said that although his relationship did not break any office rules, he said he owed it to staff to disclose it sooner.

"Even though disclosure is not required, it was owed," he said.

Whitworth concluded that the controversy provided a brief period of distraction for some employees, but the attorney general office's reputation has not been diminished.

"While the OAG is held to a higher standard, those who work in the OAG, including AG Frey, are human and not infallible," Whitworth wrote. "What we have, I believe, is an opportunity to strengthen a policy and awareness and while continuing to focus on the important work of the office rather than on a personal, consensual relationship that has found its way into the public eye for reasons only known by a disgruntled family."

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.