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FAIRFIELD, Maine — The Good Will-Hinckley board of directors has rescinded its offer to House Speaker Mark Eves to be the next president of the organization, which includes the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences charter school in Fairfield.
“The Board of Directors of Good Will-Hinckley, after a great deal of consideration, has voted to seek a new direction for the institution’s leadership,” Good Will-Hinckley Board Chairman Jack Moore said in a news release Wednesday. “The basis for this decision is grounded in the institution’s desire not to be involved in political controversy that will divert attention away from our core mission of serving children and has the potential to jeopardize the future of our school.”
Good Will-Hinckley and Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, signed an employment contract in late May, prompting a scathing response from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who argued in a letter to Good Will-Hinckley that Eves’ prior opposition to charter schools should disqualify him from the position.
The Bangor Daily News reported Wednesday afternoon that a major donor to the school, the Harold Alfond Foundation, told the school it would withhold $2.75 million in grant funding if the state funding dried up because the school’s viability would be thrown into question without the state aid to house residential students.
Sources close to the school’s board told the BDN the possible funding cut stemmed from the school’s decision to hire Eves as president.
Eves was hired as Good Will-Hinckley’s president after a nine-month search by the institution. He was scheduled to begin the new job on July 1.
In a news release Wednesday, Eves called the governor’s actions “blackmail.”
“The governor’s actions represent the worst kind of vendetta politics Maine has ever seen,” Eves said in the news release. “If it goes unchecked, no legislator will feel safe in voting his conscience for fear that the governor will be after the legislators’ family and livelihood.”
Eves has been a family counselor in the past and has said that, despite his past opposition to the legalization of charter schools in Maine, he was attracted to the Good Will-Hinckley job because it involves helping at-risk children.
“The governor’s actions should deeply trouble every single taxpayer, Maine resident and member of our citizen Legislature,” Eves said. “I have strongly disagreed with the governor on many issues, but I have never gone after his family the way he has gone after me personally, my wife and my three children.”
David Webbert, an Augusta-based labor law and civil rights attorney who has been hired by Eves, said LePage has violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Under the First Amendment, the governor is clearly prohibited from using the money of our state government to exact revenge on public officials because they do not vote the way the governor wants,” Webbert said in a news release. “This is not how Maine’s system of government is supposed to work. The governor’s tyrannical behavior threatens our democratic institutions.”
The incident sparked an angry response from Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, which oversees the state budget, and the Government Oversight Committee, which oversees the Legislature’s watchdog arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.
“I just don’t think there is any question that Mark Eves is qualified to lead Good Will-Hinckley,” Katz said. “This really goes beyond the political. This is personal and vindictive. I often disagree with Speaker Eves, but he’s a fine and honest man. More importantly, he’s a husband and a father of three beautiful kids who is trying to support his family. Political battles are one thing, but trying to ruin someone economically is quite another.”