Archive for December, 2015
Recorded 12/17/15 at Waterville Junior High School.
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Recorded 12/9/15 at Maine State House’s Welcome Center. The accompanying press release via Maine Senate and House Democrats reads:
Legislative Leaders Announce Bipartisan $4.8m Plan to Fight Drug Crisis in Maine
The plan provides equal funding for treatment as well as law enforcement
AUGUSTA | December 9, 2015 | Today, Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate President Mike Thibodeau joined other legislative leaders, including Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland, to present a $4.8 million dollar legislative package to fight the drug crisis in Maine.
The plan, a result of a bipartisan collaboration between legislative leaders, includes prevention, treatment and law enforcement efforts.
“This plan is a first step toward a healthier Maine,” said Speaker Eves. “For too long, families and communities have continued to fight addiction alone. After working hard to come together we’ve crafted a targeted, comprehensive plan that addresses the reality of drug addiction in Maine “
The plan invests $2.4 million in treatment efforts over 18 months, including $1 million in funding for a new 10-bed detox unit. The plan increases access to inpatient and outpatient treatment for the uninsured and doubles the number of peer to peer support recovery centers across the state.
In addition to treatment, the plan provides $2.4 million to strengthen law enforcement efforts, including funding 10 new MDEA agents and a statewide coordinator to connect law enforcement to treatment providers. The plan also includes funding to launch programs at five police departments around the state modeled after the successful Operation Hope in Scarborough or the Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program in Portland.
Officer John Gill of the Scarborough Police Department, site of Operation Hope, also spoke at the press conference in support of the plan. Operation Hope (the Heroin- Opiate Prevention Effort) consists of specialized law enforcement training, public education and outreach, and treatment and assistance among other services. The program served over 50 people in its first 50 days.
“This plan will provide critical support to law enforcement on the front lines and enable us to better serve members of our communities who need help,“ said Officer Gill.
Portland parent Julie Lawson, who is currently in recovery, recounted her experience with addiction and treatment services. Julie attended Mercy Hospital’s treatment program prior to its closure.
“Because of treatment I’m going to be there to watch my son grow up. I’m living proof that treatment works and that it can save families like mine,” Lawson said.
“Drug addiction has created a public health and safety catastrophe that is complex and multifaceted,” said Sen. Alfond. “So our response must be equally robust. We have to use every tool at our disposal to fight this battle on multiple fronts. This package, along with our existing efforts, will help Mainers trying to kick addiction as well as law enforcement trying to clean up our streets.”
Speaker Eves closed out the press conference by saying:
“Maine can and must do better by our families and communities, “ said Speaker Eves. “We stand with law enforcement, treatment providers, and parents in saying enough is enough. Over the next legislative session, we will work to implement these and other efforts to help keep our families and communities healthy and safe.”
The plan announced today joins five bills approved by Legislative Council last month that are also focused on addressing the drug crisis.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Full video of the event, recorded 12/8/15, here.
Maine Governor Paul LePage took a question from an audience member relating to the Lands for Maine’s Future bonds. Here is that moment from the overall event parsed out for consideration:
Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond (D-Portland) spoke with the media after the conclusion of the town hall.
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After months of examinations, interviews, subpoenas and more, the Maine Government Oversight Committee (GOC) yesterday got closer to ending their part of the ongoing LePage/ Good Will-Hinckley/ Speaker Eves saga by finally accepting the Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability (OPEGA) report (more to be written on this later).
More videos will be released later on, but it is well worth focusing on the statements of the committee co-chairs, GOP Senator Roger Katz of Augusta and Democratic Representative Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, as they detailed for fellow committee members why they were accepting the exhaustively and thoroughly prepared investigative analysis by OPEGA director Beth Ashcroft and her team.
Statements (as prepared and read to the Government Oversight Committee, 12/3/15)
Senator Roger Katz (R-Kennebec):(Outline)
Our job – to get facts out on table for all to see – for everyone to draw own conclusions.
Thank Beth and her staff for a fine job.
Committee’s job is done. Now up to others if anything happens from here.
Speak for myself on few points– I think my colleagues agree:
1. As we look at what happened it should make no difference at all whether each of us is a Republican or a Democrat. Unique nature of committee– Bipartisan – six and six.
2. Should make no difference in how review the facts whether this governor is a Republican or Democrat. Whether his name is Bakdacci or LePage or any other name.
3. We are talking about the facts of these events only involving Goodwill Hinckley. Others have suggested that we view these events in a larger context of an alleged PATTERN of conduct by the chief executive– – but this is clearly not our mandate….and we have not done so.
4. We should view these events in the context of “politics” a sometimes rough and tumble sport. We cannot be naïve about this.
5. Many people will ask “were any laws broken?” But that analysis is beyond the scope of our work. We haven’t looked at that question nor have we sought any legal opinions on that question. This is not the forum to answer the question.
So, what have we learned after a rather exhaustive process involving numerous interviews, review of many documents, and a full day of testimony taking under oath?
Here is what I think we have learned:
Goodwill Hinckley needed a new president.
Their Board undertook a recruitment and application process.
As a result of that process, the Board decided it was in the best interest of the school to hire a Mark Eves….and they voted unanimously to do so.
The Board offered the job to Mark Eves and he accepted.
The governor learned of the hiring and was upset by the hiring. The governor believed that goodwill Hinckley was making a mistake – the Governor believed that Mark Eves lacked the credentials to be an effective leader of school.
At that point, a number of the ministration officials, including, the acting Education Commissioner, a senior aide, and the Governor himself–all communicated to Goodwill Hinckley that if Mark Eves were hired, discretionary state funding of approximately $500,000 per year would be withdrawn….that money that the school was depending on would be pulled.
Learning of this, the Harold Alfond Foundation became concerned about its own investment. The President of the Foundation worried that if state funding was withdrawn, the school might not be able to expand its student population and meet other performance goals. Based on this, the Foundation decided to reevaluate its own multi-million dollar financial commitment to the school and communicated that to school officials.
Good Will-Hinckley now found itself in a terrible position. The school now faced the loss of state funding and possible loss of Alfond Foundation funding – both of which could cause the school to default on a bank loan and lead to potential foreclosure on some of its school real estate.
In the face of these facts, the board decided to fire Mark Eves.
Did members of the Administration actually threatened to draw the funds? On this question, we have the key testimony of four people:
- Jack Moore – Chair of the Board
Rich Abramson, acting President of Good Will-Hinckley
Sara Vanderwood – lobbyist for Good Will-Hinckley, and
Greg Powell – President of the Alfond Foundation
All four are skilled in the use of the English language. All four of them of them could not have been more clear in their testimony to our committee. All four of them reached exactly the same conclusion – that members of the Administration conveyed to them that if Mark Eves were hired that state funding would likely be pulled at the direction of the Governor.. I reach this conclusion myself beyond a reasonable doubt. It quacks like a duck, it walks like a duck – I think it’s a duck.
On top of that, the most compelling evidence from comes from the Governor himself who stated in no uncertain terms on camera that he threatened the funding withdrawal.
There are those who will say “you are right – that is exactly what happened but that the governor was completely justified in what he did. That it is perfectly appropriate to step in because of his belief that Mark Eves was unqualified for the job.
I don’t agree myself, for a couple of reasons:
First of all, Good Will-Hinckley is a private non-profit institution. It may receive some government funding, but it is still a private organization. As such, I believe they have a right to make their own hiring decisions without fear of interference by anyone on the outside – especially something from the government. There are literally hundreds of similar private entities that receive state funding of one kind or another. I worry about the precedent this case sets if this kind of executive action becomes the new normal. Are we entering an era when private institutions will feel a need to give politicians a veto power over their internal hiring decisions? I certainly hope that is not the road we are going down. This is hardly speculative thinking. I have already heard in the last few months about one private organization that had exactly this concern as it went through a hiring process of its own.
The second concern I have is with respect to my colleagues in the legislature – present and a future….and the First Amendment. We are a Citizen Legislature—most of us have other jobs. I hope we will not get to the point where legislators start weighing their votes–worrying that if they push the wrong button their own present or future employment might be in jeopardy. We can’t do our job if every vote, every floor speech, is viewed through the lens of “what if”.
Again, this is one person’s view—one of twelve. As I said earlier, I am proud of the work of OPEGA and I am proud of the work of this committee and respect the views of each and every one of my colleagues, all of who are also struggling to do the right thing.
Representative Chuck Kruger (D-Thomaston):
The role of this committee is to shine a light.
The actions of Governor LePage as they relate to Good Will-Hinckley and Speaker Eves raised serious questions about our government and political system. We had before us questions about the abuse of public office and taxpayer dollars and allegations that threats were made – and carried out – against an organization for at-risk youth to exact retribution against a political rival.
These are questions that could shake the faith of Maine people in their government. We owe it to them to get to the bottom of this matter.
If an elected official is able to use the power of his office to punish a lawmaker for his voting record, who among us is safe?
Are any of us as lawmakers?
What about everyday Mainers or independent organizations?
They need to be able to go about their business without worrying about crossing the wrong person in power. As elected officials, our consciences and constituents– not the fear of intimidation and retribution – must guide our actions.
These serious concerns moved some of our legislative colleagues – Republican, Democratic and independent – to request an investigation.
We, as a committee, unanimously determined that OPEGA should investigate. That strong bipartisan vote showed how seriously we take our duties. We remained just as committed to them when others tried to undermine this effort and even attacked our work and our mission.
OPEGA produced an excellent, impartial report that spelled out what happened.
We now know with complete certainty that the governor used state dollars to threaten Good Will-Hinckley because it hired Speaker Eves and that funds were withheld and restored only after Speaker Eves was fired from his new post.
Now, with our fact-finding mission drawing to a close, it’s up to others outside this committee room to decide what comes next.
I believe that this investigation and this report can be valuable tools, and I urge the Legislature to take action so nothing of this sort ever happens again. This is what’s needed to ensure the people of Maine can have confidence in our system of government.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
- We cannot wait any longer to fight drug dealers
Heroin is raging in our state, and it is killing Mainers every week. We need less talk on this deadly pandemic and more action.
Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.
Everyone agrees Maine’s heroin problem has escalated into a public health crisis. But politicians differ on how to handle it.
My administration is focused right now on attacking the supply side of the problem. We need more law enforcement officials on the streets, hunting down drug dealers and stopping them from selling poison in our state. However, as we have said repeatedly, we are not looking to arrest drug addicts. We are going after the organized drug dealers who run these illegal operations like a very profitable business. We need to shut them down wherever we can.
We absolutely agree that more treatment, education and recovery efforts are needed. If the Legislature wants to create a comprehensive plan to increase both law enforcement and treatment, we welcome it. The Legislature has the ability to prioritize funding for this comprehensive plan when they go through the budget. Unfortunately, like everything else the Legislature does, it will take a long time to come up with the plan—and even longer to implement it.
We can’t stand by and watch Mainer after Mainer die from heroin or other lethal opiates while the Legislature is mulling over their plan.
As Maine is plagued with the worst drug epidemic in history, MDEA is shortest staff than ever. We first proposed 14 new agents in March 2014, but the Legislature only approved 4 new drug enforcement agents in July. That’s not enough.
We need to build a pipeline for hiring and training new agents so as some are hitting the streets, more are coming in for training. But the Legislature has delayed these law enforcement efforts for a year-and-a-half. As the drug crisis is rapidly accelerating, we are falling behind in resources to stop the supply. The Legislature can determine the timeline for funding the new agents. I just need to know they are serious about creating these positions no later than Jan. 2016. But if they continue to stall and wait around for an unspecified plan to increase treatment, I will move ahead without them. As they contemplate how to create a plan, Mainers are literally dropping dead.
If they have not informed me by December 10 that they are planning to fund these new agents, I will take action.
That’s why I will use every resource available to me to fight these drug traffickers, including temporary support from the National Guard.
Every life is worth saving, and we will do whatever is necessary to prevent the death of one more Mainer.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )