Sunday, February 28, 2016

Executive Branch Bullying, And What A Federal Court Might Do About It #mepolitics

Source: Goodwill-Hinckley School "College Step-Up Program"
Some of you may remember that the belligerent governor of Maine came within a hair of being brought before the legislature for impeachment this year. There were a host of charges against him, the most egregious being his misuse of the power of office to derail the hiring of a political opponent to run residential charter school Goodwill-Hinckley

The impeachment articles were presented, but many Democrats "crossed the aisle" i.e., the imaginary line separating one corporate party (Democrats) from the other corporate party (Republicans), in voting yes to indefinitely postpone impeachment (roll call here).

The governor's first and second terms of office have been a textbook case of ALEC-sponsored meddling in state government. Think Michigan and Flint's poisoned water supply for other examples of how corporate interests have penetrated and controlled state and local governments in recent years. 

Both of the governor's two elections have been marked by splitting the "liberal" or "progressive" votes by means of a third party candidate, one whose entire resume consists of venture capitalism on behalf of China -- not China, Maine, the real China. The effect of the third party candidate was negligible in the second term re-election but the incumbent was still, inexplicably, returned to office. Allegedly because the Tea Party-type voters turned out in droves to vote on a referendum to keep bear baiting legal. This did not happen in my area according to my sources: many ballots were returned with only the referendum vote marked. But the opportunity to rig the election and tell that particular lie is certainly not below either the governor or his corporate handlers.

The governor has distinguished himself in displays of unapologetic racism from his first week in office, and most recently made international news by racist slurs connected with drug dealers alleged to be impregnating "white girls" in his state. 

(Here, I share my parody of that incident with a trigger warning that if ridiculing Hitler offends you, don't watch it.)

My fellow crusader for the common good, Lew Kingsbury, has been doing his homework and has agreed to let me publish his account of the battle over the governor's misuse of executive power. Short version: the governor threatened to withhold state funds already allocated to a school because he did not like a powerful Democrat being hired as the president of said school.

I should also mention that, since this account was written, the governor of Maine has endorsed the racist demagogue with the bad hair for president. The governor has also appointed himself Commissioner of Education. Yup, you heard that right. Here's a screenshot of the Bangor Daily News poll accompanying their report on this story: Do you approve of Gov. Paul LePage's decision to name himself the state education commissioner?

Stay tuned for more unbelievably bad corporate government in Maine.

Good Will-Hinckley Scandal To Be Settled In Federal Court
by Lew Kingsbury (previously published in )

On January 14th an historic Impeachment Order in the Maine House of Representatives was derailed, on a bi-partisan vote of 96-52, by a motion to indefinitely postpone an investigation of the Governor. Meanwhile there has been an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by Mark Eves in federal court. This lawsuit alleges that LePage abused the power of his office violating Eves constitutional rights. The lawsuit was amended alleging a violation of state law by using intimidation to prevent Eve's hiring by a private institution.

Paul LePage's legal defense team has responded by filing a motion to dismiss claiming that LePage's role as Governor provides him immunity from such legal actions. The immunity defense allows his team to ask for dismissal of the case without addressing whether the allegations presented in the lawsuit are factual. The motion to dismiss may have been necessitated by the Governor's alleged admission of his actions in an interview on camera.

On January 6, 2016 the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee (GOC) completed its investigation of the Governor. Committee reports and witness testimony tell a disturbing and sometimes conflicting story of the events leading up to Mark Eves' firing. The following is a chronological outline derived from the reports. (Report excerpts are identified using quotation marks).

On June 5, 2015 - Governor Paul LePage met with former acting DOE Commissioner Tom Desjardin and learned that Mark Eves had been hired as the next President of the Good Will-Hinckley (GWH) school. Following the meeting the Governor met with a House Republican caucus and announced the Eves hiring.

The Governor's senior education policy adviser Aaron Chadbourne met with GWH lobbyist Sarah Vanderwood. When she came away from that meeting "she definitely interpreted from what was said that the state funding for GWH was now in question."

The Governor called GWH interim president Rich Abramson. Abramson told OPEGA that the Governor "...was upset with GWH's selection of the speaker as President"...."and that they had lost his support."

Desjardin called GWH Board Chair Jack Moore and "indicated that the Governor would not be happy with the school selecting the Speaker and that with cuts needed to the 'miscellaneous costs' money in the DOE budget, it was going to be hard to justify GWH keeping that money."

"At 12:20 pm the Speaker emails his signed employment agreement to the GWH Board Chair."

According to the GWH Director of Finance GWH Board Chair Moore has separate telecons with the GWH Board (3:00 pm) and MeANS Board (3:30 pm). "The Director of Finance told OPEGA that Board members present on both calls were all in agreement that GWH should proceed with hiring the Speaker, even if it resulted in the loss of state funding."

Harold Alfond Foundation (HAF) Board Chair Gregory Powell received phone calls from GWH Board Chair Moore and from the Governor. Powell "...did not return the call to the GWH Board Chair until June 7th and did not return the Governor's call until June 8th."

On June 7, 2015 -"The HAF Board Chair returned the GWH Board Chair's June 5th call. He told OPEGA that the GWH Board Chair wanted to inform him that GWH had entered into a contract with the Speaker to be GWH's President, that the Governor was expressing concerns about that decision."

"The HAF Board Chair told OPEGA he had not heard about the speaker being hired until then and he did not know at that time what the Governor's concerns with the Speaker really were or what the implications were..."

On June 8, 2015 - "The HAF Board Chair returned the Governor's June 5th call." "...the Governor said that the contract had already been signed and there was nothing that he could do about it." "By the time he sent the June 18th letter to GWH, he was pretty clear that the 'support' was the $530,000 in state funding..." "He was also pretty clear that the threat to the funding was connected to the hiring of the speaker."

On June 9, 2015 - Susan Beaudoin DOE staffer told Desjardin that "...she had already submitted the payment manifest for GWH's 1st quarter payment of FY 2016 and she asked the Acting Commissioner if she should try to hold the payment. The Acting DOE Commissioner paused and thought it over before deciding to hold payment."

"The Acting DOE Commissioner also told OPEGA about a conversation he had with the Governor in which the Governor told him that he did not want to send any funds to GWH that were not required by law."

On June 10, 2015 - "The Interim President's Administrative assistant emails the Speaker to set up dates and times with the Interim President to begin his transition and attend GWH-related meetings with outside parties."

On June 11, 2015 - "Numerous emails are exchanged by GWH Board members with the GWH Board Chair praising the Speaker's diplomacy during this period and noting that 'the funding is a primary focus and while we would find it hard to believe anyone would change the lives of our residents in a personal spat, we are very focused on plans B,C and D.' "

"The GWH Board Chair also asks the Speaker to come to the Board's regularly scheduled June 19th Board meeting prepared to discuss his ideas for replacing the $530,000."

On June 15, 2015 - "The HAF Board Chair met with the GWH Board Chair, possibly over dinner, at the HAF Board Chair's invitation." "The GWH Board Chair told OPEGA that in his discussion(s) with the HAF Board Chair, the HAF Board Chair told him that he wanted to engage the consultant again to do another assessment of GWH's finances and business plan. He said about half of the HAF Board had been worried, given past GWH history, that state funding was not something that could be easily relied on and they would probably be sending GWH a letter..."

During testimony on October 15th, Jack Moore was asked what the impact was of the receipt of the HAF letter. Moore replied that he didn't need a letter to know that he was in trouble.

During testimony on November 12th, Gregory Powell was asked why he had decided to engage the consultant again to do another assessment of GWH's finances. Powell replied that he felt that the grant money was at risk.

The OPEGA report addressed the HAF grant agreement's handling of financial risk. The $2,750,000 payment was to be made "contingent upon satisfactory achievement of 'measurable performance goals' outlined in the proposal."

"The agreement specifies that HAF will make the final grant payment if, by September 1, 2019, the HAF trustees determine that the progress made by GWH and MeANS is 'materially consistent' with what was proposed and there is 'reasonable expectation' of ongoing financial responsibility and success. The grant agreement requires GWH to provide, as part of its Annual Report to HAF, an update on the status of state revenues for education and residential services. However, the grant agreement does not specifically reference any assumptions regarding the timing or amount of state funding."

"In January/February 2015 GWH applied for a line of credit of up to $3 million to finance the Moody School project..." "GWH considers the line of credit to be a bridge loan that it intends to fully pay off with the remaining HAF grant funds to be paid in 2019."

On June 18, 2015 - "The HAF Board Chair sent a letter to the GWH Board Chair expressing HAF's concern over the 'likely' loss of $1,060,000 in state funding over the next two years for the residential program, and its serious concern about what that meant to the future viability of GWH and MeANS and by extension GWH's ability to achieve the goals underpinning the HAF's September 10, 2014 grant to GWH for renovating and expanding the Moody School. The letter also informs GWH that given HAF's concerns they have re-engaged the consultant to revisit the GWH and MeANS budget and financial forecasts."

On June 19, 2015 - "The GWH Board held its regularly scheduled Board meeting." "...the GWH Board entered Executive Session and reportedly talked through the ramifications of the loss of state funding and the GWH Board Chair's receipt of the letter from HAF." "...the Board agreed that unless the Speaker had an adequate plan to address the potential loss of state funding, they would offer him the option of stepping down as President..."

"After the Executive Session, the speaker and GWH's Director of Finance joined the board meeting..." "The Speaker presented his memo" which "described four particular strategies the Speaker proposed implementing to address the immediate challenges. GWH's Director of Finance told OPEGA that the Board did not seem to welcome the Speaker's solutions and instead the GWH Board Chair said that it would not be enough, referencing the HAF letter."

"All those OPEGA spoke with said the message to the Speaker in this meeting was that his options were either to join a potentially sinking ship or resign."

On June 21, 2015 - "The GWH Board Chair told OPEGA he spoke with the Speaker on the phone in the afternoon and the Speaker informed him that he was not going to resign, that he had retained a lawyer and needed to think of his career and family."

Later that afternoon in an email to the GWH Board Chair Moore, the Speaker recommended "...developing a strategy that would take immediate steps toward persuading the Governor to withdraw his improper threat. The Speaker's email also states 'You have explained that the Governor communicated directly to you through a note that he will withhold this money unless I am replaced as the new President. I believe the Board has good grounds to move forward in asking the Governor to release the money that has been appropriated for Good Will-Hinckley'."

On June 24, 2015 - A copy of the June 18th Gregory Powell letter to Jack Moore is leaked to a Bangor Daily News statehouse reporter. The reporter has disclosed that he made a phone call early in the day to Moore to validate the authenticity of the letter. A message was left on Moore's voicemail to get back to him that afternoon or he would consider the letter authentic.

At 4:19 pm an email from "HAF Board Chair Gregory Powell informed the HAF Board of the situation regarding the threatened loss of State funding and his letter to GWH Board Chair Jack Moore." "Mr. Powell attached to this email the Governor's June 8th letter to the GWH and MeANS Board Chairs and his ownJune 18th letter to Mr. Moore."

Efforts to contact HAF Board members, both directly and through an intermediary, to confirm that this was the first time that they had been informed about the issue have proven unsuccessful.

At 4:30 pm "...the GWH Board Chair holds a meeting via conference call." "They agree the only course of action is to terminate the Speaker's employment contract and the Board voted unanimously to do so."

At 4:52 pm "...the Bangor Daily News posted a story on the Harold Alfond Foundation's letter to GWH raising concerns about the possible loss of $1,060,000 in state funding. The story said an anonymous source close to the GWH Board said the loss of funding was linked to the school's decision to hire the Speaker."

At 5:33 pm "...GWH's new interim president emailed the Speaker a letter from the GWH Board terminating his employment."

"In a letter to GWH dated July 6th, the Acting DOE Commissioner states that as soon as the agreement is signed, DOE will send the first quarterly check for FY 2016. GWH's Interim President returned the signed agreement on July 8th and DOE submitted the payment manifest for GWH's first quarterly payment on July 11th."

With the question of impeachment indefinitely postponed, divisive partisan politics have been removed from the equation. Perhaps federal court is where the Good Will-Hinckley firing of Mark Eves scandal has belonged all along. 

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