Committee votes to give MaineHousing board authority to fire director

Governor Baldacci swears in Dale McCormick at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010.
Governor's office photo by Joy Leach
Governor Baldacci swears in Dale McCormick at the State House on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010.
Posted March 08, 2012, at 5:39 p.m.
Last modified March 09, 2012, at 8:38 a.m.

A legislative committee on Thursday approved a bill that would give the board of the Maine State Housing Authority the power to fire the executive director.

That post is now a four-year term and the governor can remove the executive director only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty or misconduct in office.” Unlike other quasi-governmental bodies, the board cannot fire the executive director.

MaineHousing, and its director, Dale McCormick, have been at the center of an increasingly intense political debate as Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and new board members appointed by Gov. Paul LePage have sought to assert their influence over leadership at the agency. Lawmakers recently voted to have the Legislature’s investigative arm look into MaineHousing’s expenses over the past five years related to memberships, contributions, travel and other areas.

One brief sticking point Thursday was whether the legislation, LD 1778, should take effect immediately or in 2014 — after McCormick’s term expires.

On Thursday, as the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee opened its session, co-chairman Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, said a provision delaying key parts of the bill until 2014 had been stricken from the bill. It was then unanimously approved by all lawmakers there. Not present were Sen. Thomas Martin, R-Benton, and Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. The issue was over in a matter of minutes.

The bill, which makes other changes in the authority’s governance, will now move on to consideration by the full Legislature.

Asked after Thursday’s vote about removal of the delay provision, which was part of an amendment he had drafted, Rep. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, said lawmakers from both parties discussed the issue and decided that it would “delay a lot of the changes” that they felt were important. Those included staggering terms of board members to prevent massive turnover, and having board meetings run according to Robert’s Rules of Order.

“It’s a question of good governance,” said Rector.

If the bill provided for good governance at MaineHousing, then it should go into effect immediately, he said.

Asked if passage of the bill would lead to McCormick losing her job, Tuttle said he supported the director and had confidence in her. Rector responded that it was a question for the board to answer.

Neither MaineHousing board chairman Peter Anastos nor a spokesman for the agency returned calls for comment.

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