August 17, 2018
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AG’s office: LePage refuses to approve funding to hire prosecutors, replace X-ray machine for autopsies

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills swears in employees in Bangor Friday.
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Updated:

AUGUSTA, Maine — Attorney General Janet Mills’ staff said Wednesday that they have been waiting since November for Gov. Paul LePage to sign financial orders that will clear the way for the hiring of two child protection prosecutors, a homicide attorney, matching funds for a federal grant and equipment for the state police crime lab.

The funding impasse is the latest in a series of conflicts between LePage, a Republican, and Mills, a Democrat. Last year, LePage withheld legislatively approved raises for state attorneys, many of whom work directly for Mills, while approving pay hikes to other administrative staff.

The open positions were established years ago by the Legislature and are vacant because of attrition, said Tim Feeley, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. The homicide vacancy was created when longtime prosecutor William Stokes was nominated to serve as Maine Superior Court judge by LePage in May 2014.

“These are not new funds,” said Feeley. “These financial orders would simply allow the attorney general to hire attorneys.”

Feeley said Mills’ staff has inquired more than once about the status of the financial orders and “we’re just told that the governor has declined to sign them.”

LePage’s office did not immediately respond to questions from the Bangor Daily News.

The financial orders in question are as follows:

— A Nov. 10, 2014, order for a half-time attorney in the Child Protection Division at an annual salary of $23,462.

— A Nov. 24, 2014, order for a full-time Child Protection Division attorney at an annual salary of $49,733.

— A Dec. 29, 2014, order for a full-time homicide prosecutor at an annual salary of $73,237.

— A Nov. 21, 2014, order for $240,800, which is the state’s match to a $722,000 federal grant for the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

— A Dec. 1, 2014, order for $31,219 for the purchase of a digital processor for an X-ray machine in the medical examiner’s office, which is no longer repairable.

“Failure to approve this request will require the office to continue to transport decedents [dead people] to MaineGeneral for X-rays which delays the autopsy process and increases costs,” reads the financial order.

Mark Belserene of the medical examiner’s office said in a Nov. 20, 2014, letter to Mills that the lab’s digital process had stopped working three weeks before and that it was so old that its manufacturer could not provide replacement parts.

“This situation leaves this office in an emergency situation,” said Belserene. “We currently have no X-ray capability and equipment that cannot be repaired. The need for the equipment is still very vital to fulfilling our role to the people of Maine.”

In addition to questions to the governor’s office, a BDN query to the Department of Administrative and Financial Services on Wednesday afternoon was not immediately answered.

Mills was not available for comment on Wednesday.

 


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