AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee will formally notify the Maine Attorney General’s Office that there may have been wrongdoing by officials at the Maine Center for Disease Control.
Members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee unanimously voted Wednesday to send a letter to the AG’s Office letting it know they’ve received information suggesting CDC officials violated the Maine Freedom of Access Act or tried to frustrate the intent of the law by ordering documents destroyed. The letter will ask the AG’s Office to review the information and consider whether it should investigate the matter.
The allegations came to light last spring when Sharon Leahy-Lind, then-director of the CDC’s Division of Local Public Health, filed a complaint of harassment with the Maine Human Rights Commission. She has since filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit.
She has said her bosses at the CDC told her to shred public documents related to the grant funding for the state’s Healthy Maine Partnerships program. When she refused, she said, she faced harassment and retaliation. She has since left her job at the CDC.
At the Government Oversight Committee’s behest, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA, looked into the situation at the CDC. Its December report noted a host of problems, including supervisors who ordered the destruction of public documents, workers who created documents specifically to fulfill a Sun Journal FOAA request, grant funding criteria that was changed during the selection process, funding scores that were changed just before the final selection, a tribal contract that OPEGA couldn’t discern whom was responsible for developing, reviewing or approving, and a critical scoring sheet that had vanished.
Money, the investigation found, may have gone where it shouldn’t have.
In response, the Government Oversight Committee subpoenaed six current and former CDC officials at the heart of the document-shredding probe. They testified before the committee on March 14.
During that six hours of testimony, two things became clear: The CDC deputy director told employees to destroy public documents related to funding for the Healthy Maine Partnerships program and scoring was changed at the end of the competitive grant process, sending public money to a favored partnership whose original scores didn’t support it — possibly at the direction of CDC Director Sheila Pinette.
Although the allegations, the OPEGA report and official testimony have been public for months, the Government Oversight Committee’s letter will serve as formal notification to the state’s top law-enforcement agency.
It is unclear how much weight such a letter will carry with the AG’s Office. An office spokesman said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on a letter that has not yet been received.
The letter is expected to be drafted and sent within the next few weeks.
The Government Oversight Committee has been trying to determine why public records were ordered destroyed and what should be done to prevent it from happening again. It will continue that work after the letter has been sent.