Ex-Bangor official: City is an ‘innocent bystander’ in alleged CDC grant rigging

Shawn Yardley
Shawn Yardley
Posted March 17, 2014, at 5:11 p.m.
Last modified March 18, 2014, at 6:23 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s former director of health and community services said Monday he was surprised he and the city had been the subject of so much attention during the state’s document-shredding probe into the Maine Center for Disease Control.

“It’s difficult for me because I don’t know all of the information and I think Bangor is being drawn into something that we were an innocent bystander in,” Shawn Yardley, now director of community services for Penobscot Community Health Care, said Monday.

Yardley left his position in Bangor, which he had held for the previous nine years, last summer to take his post at PCHC.

During testimony delivered Friday before the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, several CDC officials said that scoring was changed at the end of a competitive grant process, apparently in order to ensure that Bangor Region Public Health and Wellness had lead status and funding among Healthy Maine Partnerships program groups.

Facing reduced and late funding, the CDC created nine lead partnerships, one being Bangor, that would get more money and have greater responsibilities than the other 18. Yardley said Monday he estimated the total amount of the grant for Bangor, including extra funding for lead status, to be between $350,000 and $450,000.

Some at the CDC believed the original scoring methodology was flawed when Bangor didn’t come out as the top grant recipient, though CDC officials who testified disagreed on who exactly held those concerns.

Later, employees were told to destroy public documents related to the initial funding model as a method of “version control” after an old score sheet was mixed up with a new one, according to Friday’s testimony.

Yardley said he had no knowledge of the revised scoring criteria or the original results that put another partnership ahead of Bangor’s. Most of what he has learned about the change he read in the papers, he said.

The interest in having Bangor serve as the lead partnership in the region, and thus receive the most funding, was less surprising, Yardley said. Bangor’s partnership works closely with others in the region, including Piscataquis and northern Penobscot counties.

“There was a consensus that it made sense for Bangor to be the lead,” Yardley said, because of the amount of administrative resources it had and the amount of focus the city places on issues like substance abuse.

This grant “wasn’t free money,” he said. The lead partnerships were chosen to receive extra funding in large part because they had the administrative resources and staffing to launch and maintain programs and initiatives already in place, Yardley said.

Yardley did not attend the hearing and was not able to listen in, but “I got a bunch of emails saying they were talking about me,” he said.

Former Division Director Sharon Leahy-Lind, who filed a harassment complaint and later a whistleblower lawsuit after supervisors allegedly pressured her to destroy documents, testified that CDC Director Sheila Pinette told her the reason for Bangor’s increased funding was “political” and the criteria change was made in part because Yardley was “a wonderful partner” to the CDC.

Yardley said he has a good working relationship with Pinette and others at the CDC, as well as leaders of the other HMP branches. Pinette and Yardley have served on several committees together.

“I work closely with them, I’ve been on the workgroups responsible for developing public health infrastructure since they’ve been meeting,” Yardley said.

“I have a sense that they respect me,” Yardley said of CDC officials. “I try to be someone that people want to work with.”

Still, Yardley said he first heard of the revised criteria in news reports and said he never questioned the CDC about Bangor’s level of funding. He said he was surprised by the amount of talk about Bangor during Friday’s testimony, considering most questions about funding changes arose after other partnership agencies raised concerns about unbalanced funding two years ago.

Healthy Androscoggin raised the early alarm after it projected to lose 64 percent of its state funding, while Rumford-based Healthy River Valley expected to see its state funding increase from $152,000 to $281,000.

A state investigation released in December found a host of problems with the way the Maine Centers for Disease Control distributed millions of dollars to HMP programs the previous year.

“Clearly, public trust has been shaken by what’s being reported,” Yardley said.

 

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