There was a smoking gun, after all.
After months of speculation, political posturing, and media intrigue, the Government Oversight Committee’s Nov. 12 hearing finally produced a smoking gun, just not the one some committee members thought they were looking for. Despite all of the hype surrounding the decision to subpoena the governor’s staff, when they testified under oath, their testimony did not reveal any new material facts that departed from the report the committee released in September.
Hours into the marathon inquisition of nine witnesses, Bill Brown, a member of House Speaker Mark Eves’ staff who also chairs the board for the charter school that Good Will-Hinckley operates, admitted that he was much more involved in the presidential search and selection process at Good Will-Hinckley and the consideration of Eves’ candidacy than anyone had previously disclosed. It was clear that Brown had indeed provided his boss with advantages that other candidates for the job did not receive.
At the hearing, Brown introduced himself as a longtime staffer to seven Democratic House speakers, including former Speaker Glenn Cummings, who later became president of Good Will-Hinckley. After Democrats lost their House majority in 2010, Brown followed Cummings to briefly serve as vice president of operations for Good Will-Hinckley’s charter school in 2011 until Democrats retook the House majority in 2012. When Eves became speaker, he hired Brown back into the speaker’s office, where he now earns nearly $90,000 per year, the second-highest paid of all partisan legislative staff.
Under oath, Brown revealed the following:
— He served on the search committee for the next president of Good Will-Hinckley.
— At the request of his former boss, Cummings, Brown encouraged his current boss, Eves, to apply for the job.
— Although he previously stated that he had recused himself from reviewing or advising on his boss’ application, Brown revealed that he had indeed been present at both his boss’ initial and final in-person interviews.
— Brown reviewed the resumes of all candidates and sat in on interviews with all candidates.
— Brown first told the committee that he did not discuss his boss’ qualifications with members of the search committee. But later during his testimony, he reversed himself and revealed he had twice been asked by committee members to comment on aspects of Eves’ candidacy and that he had indeed provided information, which caused committee member Sen. David Burns to point out that he had contradicted his prior testimony.
— Pressed on whether he had advised Eves during the application process, Brown admitted that he had reviewed his boss’ resume, provided feedback and suggested how he might improve it. When asked whether he had provided similar advice to other candidates, he replied that he had not because he hadn’t been asked.
— Brown may have taken other steps to tailor the process to ensure his boss would be selected, but when Rep. Deb Sanderson tried to ask him more about that, the committee chairman, Sen. Roger Katz, ruled that the questions were not relevant and joined the Democrats in a partisan vote to block further questioning of Brown’s role over Republicans’ objections.
When preparing their fact-finding information brief in September, the report writing staff at the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability declined to interview Brown because they somehow didn’t think his involvement was germane to their investigation. Omitting his interview allowed them to conclude that “[Good Will-Hinckley] established in advance, and consistently adhered to, a candidate selection process that was well documented, thorough, thoughtful and fair for all candidates.”
In actuality, Brown’s testimony revealed that the process was not fair to the other candidates at all. Eves had a built-in advantage from the start. The Government Oversight Committee has said that its role would be limited to finding facts, however when it finally had the opportunity to interview Brown, pertinent questions were halted.
A well-paid member of Eves’ staff was embedded in the search process while personally advising him on how to land the job. If that’s not a smoking gun, I don’t know what is. I agree with five of the 12 Government Oversight Committee members, who only partially endorsed the OPEGA report because it does not contain all of the facts and its assertion of fairness is plain wrong.
The process that led to the selection of the sitting speaker of the House for the presidency of Good Will-Hinckley was tainted from the start, just like Gov. Paul LePage said it was when he objected to the speaker’s hiring. In my mind, the governor spoke out because he was concerned about the sudden change in direction of a charter school he had worked hard to reopen, and he took steps in the best interest of the Maine taxpayer.
Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, represents District 28 in the Maine House.