Legislative committee lays out plan to prevent repeat of Maine CDC document-shredding scandal

Posted June 26, 2014, at 6:27 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee on Thursday took steps to resolve its months-long document-shredding probe and to ensure the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s shredding scandal doesn’t happen again to that department or any others in Maine.

The Government Oversight Committee voted Thursday to:

— Ask the attorney general’s office to form a task force with the Office of Information Technology, Bureau of Human Resources and others. That task force would spend six months looking at the state’s record-retention policies and make recommendations regarding model policies, training for state employees and overall guidance on record-retention, particularly for draft documents such as those at the heart of the CDC document-shredding probe. The attorney general’s office has said it would be willing to form such a task force.

— Have the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA, speak with the attorney general’s office and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services about issuing guidance for situations that involve state funds but do not involve a formal competitive process for handing out that money. Lawmakers have lambasted the CDC for not going through a formal competitive grant process in 2012, when it decided which public health groups would get millions in state money.

— Have OPEGA look into the ethics policies in Maine departments and find out what other states maintain for such policies. OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft told the Government Oversight Committee on Thursday that it’s unclear whether state employees have sufficient ethical guidance.

“It’s a tall mountain, but I would say worth the climb,” said Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, co-chairman of the committee.

The state CDC was thrown into the spotlight last year when Sharon Leahy-Lind, then-director of the CDC’s Division of Local Public Health, filed a harassment complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. She has since filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit.

Leahy-Lind said her bosses at the CDC told her to shred public documents related to 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.

OPEGA looked into the situation at the CDC at the Government Oversight Committee’s behest. 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.

In May, the committee officially notified the attorney general’s office that there may have been wrongdoing by officials at the CDC, and it asked the state’s top law-enforcement agency to consider its own investigation.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office confirmed the office had received the letter but has declined to comment on it.

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.

 

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