Jackson joins legislative watchdog panel with oversight of document-shredding, labor probes

Scott Thistle | Sun Journal
Posted June 24, 2014, at 7:11 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson, who once called for Gov. Paul LePage’s impeachment over allegations that the governor improperly tried to sway unemployment appeals in favor of businesses, has been named to the legislative committee that will determine the path forward for a state investigation of those allegations.

Jackson, the Senate majority leader who lost the Democratic primary for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District earlier this month and is not seeking re-election to the Legislature, is replacing his primary opponent, Sen. Emily Cain of Orono, on the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. Cain recently resigned from legislative committees in order to focus on her congressional campaign.

In addition to the Department of Labor probe, the Government Oversight Committee — composed of six Democrats and six Republicans — is scheduled to decide on Thursday how to proceed on months-long reviews of disputed Healthy Maine Partnerships grant awards in 2013 — which have led to an investigation of document shredding by state employees.

In April 2013, the Sun Journal reported that LePage scolded unemployment hearing officers at a Blaine House luncheon. A few weeks later, LePage appointed a special commission to investigate the unemployment compensation system in Maine.

The U.S. Department of Labor then launched its own investigation, which concluded in February that officials in the executive branch may have inappropriately used their positions to influence Maine’s unemployment claims appeals process against workers.

LePage has denied any wrongdoing and alleged the federal investigation was a partisan attack from the Obama administration. The probe caused Democrats in the Legislature and their allies to call for the governor’s impeachment.

“I think he should be impeached,” said Jackson of LePage in February. “The governor thinks he should be the next [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, but he should be thinking about being the next [impeached and jailed Illinois Gov.] Rod Blagojevich.”

Walker is a Republican, and Blagojevich is a Democrat.

On Thursday, staff from the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the nonpartisan state government watchdog agency, will brief lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee about the administration’s planned responses to the federal probe and blue ribbon commission report on the unemployment benefits system.

In an unrelated case, the Government Oversight Committee is nearing a vote on recommendations related to a document-shredding probe at the Maine Center for Disease Control that originated around questions about whether grants in the Healthy Maine Partnerships program were distributed fairly. CDC employees told the committee in March that they were ordered to shred documents as a method of “version control.”

On Thursday, the committee will vote whether to accept an exhaustive OPEGA report on the matter and what to do moving forward, according to Beth Ashcroft, OPEGA director.

Among the committee’s choices are determining whether DHHS has sufficiently addressed the issues and root causes of the shredding incident; deciding whether statewide laws that address funding decisions made without a formal request for proposals are adequate; suggesting goals for a records retention working group established by the attorney general’s office; evaluating whether there have been violations of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act; and deciding to what extent there were violations of expected ethics, accountability and transparency measures.

Also on Thursday’s agenda is consideration of OPEGA’s recommendations on the scope of a review of the DHHS Licensing and Regulation or Child Care Providers. Last month, the department hired 16 new child care center compliance investigators in an effort to reduce individual caseloads and comply with federal safety guidelines.

The meeting is at 9 a.m. Thursday in Room 220 of the Cross State Office Building in Augusta.

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