GOC Co-Chairs Katz, Kruger Detail Support for OPEGA’s Report on LePage/ Good Will-Hinckley

Posted on December 4, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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.

Done that.

Thank Beth and her staff for a fine job.

Committee’s job is done. Now up to others if anything happens from here.

Few comments:

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?

GOC Co-Chair Roger Katz (R-Augusta) gives his reasons for full acceptance of the OPEGA report investigating allegations of wrongdoing by Governor Paul LePage

GOC Co-Chair Roger Katz (R-Augusta) gives his reasons for full acceptance of the OPEGA report investigating allegations of wrongdoing by Governor Paul LePage

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.

Representative Chuck Kruger (D-Thomaston) reads his

Representative Chuck Kruger (D-Thomaston) reads his statement, urging support for the OPEGA report.

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.

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