Somebody on the Auburn City Council, it appears, has “unclean hands.”

That’s the phrase city officials used against the Sun Journal in 2003, when the newspaper received a 16-page report relating to the controversial drunken driving arrest of then-Mayor Normand Guay, prior to its public release.

The document detailed the events leading to Guay’s arrest. He was later acquitted. It also touched off a strident effort within the Auburn Police Department to discover its “leak,” including making officers take polygraph tests.

The city went to such lengths regarding the information about Guay’s arrest that it spent $95,000 to investigate and defend the report’s findings and secrecy, respectively. Several officers were later demoted or reprimanded, after the dust had settled.

We wonder if the city will pursue the source of the city manager candidate list just as vigorously. After all – unlike the police report, which was deemed a public record by a judge – the divulging of this personnel record did constitute a violation of Maine law.

It’s highly unlikely, though, that Mayor John Jenkins has the interest, or even authority, to put his fellow councilors under the burning interrogatory spotlight. At this point, the word is out.

The public should know the final candidates for their city’s top job. Yet this desire must be balanced with the plain fact that municipal personnel decisions are not a public process, are exempt from freedom of access statutes, and that city councilors are entrusted to respect municipal law.

There were better ways of releasing this information that would have preserved the process and protected the candidates.

All this revelation has done is botch the Auburn managerial selection process horribly. What a terrible first impression for the out-of-town candidates, to be presented with a city council that cannot be trusted to abide by its statutory duties. It’s even worse for the local candidates, who must still work with them.

And what a terrible first impression for the new city council, as this transgression only serves to notify dedicated Auburn officials, employees and citizens that the best needs of the city are second to individual agendas.

One candidate has already dropped from consideration because of this mess. Perhaps others will follow. Auburn taxpayers spent more than $20,000 for an outside firm to find and vet candidates; it would be a shame if this effort, and expense, disappeared in a puff of ego.

Whichever councilor divulged this information also may have felt they were acting in the public interest. By taking matters into their own hands, however, they also betrayed their other responsibilities to the city and the office.

It is a violation deserving of censure, if the offender is ever identified.

We bet the hunt stops here, though. There’s a bigger, more desperate search to worry about, anyway: choosing the next Auburn city manager. This effort must be salvaged.

If any of the candidates still want the job.

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