Gov. Paul LePage has taken a special interest in the success of Good Will-Hinckley since he became governor in 2011.

He included state funding for the nonprofit organization in Fairfield in the first state budget proposal he made as governor — one of a number of developments that helped Good Will-Hinckley stave off closure at a time when its future was in doubt.

The magnet school the organization began around the same time, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, later became one of Maine’s first charter schools under an education law LePage campaigned on and made a top priority in his first year in office.

More recently, in April, when Good Will-Hinckley sought a line of credit to begin expanding the charter school’s building, the organization’s interim president sought help from the governor’s office in securing a key signoff.

Also over the past year, Good Will-Hinckley started working with the governor to start a logger training initiative — apparently a priority for the governor.

But this level of investment in the success of a charter school and its parent organization never gave LePage the authority to use state resources — even state resources under his discretion — to ensure the organization did not hire a leader he didn’t like.

Unfortunately, the report by the Legislature’s nonpartisan investigative arm about LePage’s actions surrounding Good Will-Hinckley’s decision to hire Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves as its president confirms a pattern of interference by LePage and his administration in the organization’s presidential selection process with the use of state resources as leverage — $530,000 annually used to pay for the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences’ student residential program.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability’s report, released Tuesday, fills in a number of details surrounding Good Will-Hinckley’s financial situation, the hiring process that led to its selection of Eves and a Harold Alfond Foundation grant that would have been at risk if the organization lost the $530,000 in state funding. It also sheds more light on the events that transpired once LePage learned Good Will-Hinckley’s board had selected Eves.

The report undermines repeated claims LePage has made that Eves’ hire was the result of political patronage — a “back-room deal between cronies,” as LePage put it in a June 25 news release from his office, or a “political hack-o-rama at its worst,” as the governor said in his July 8 radio address. OPEGA’s 25-page document details Good Will-Hinckley’s monthslong hiring process and describes how Eves emerged as the top choice from a field of 19 candidates.

The document also makes clear that when LePage learned Good Will-Hinckley had chosen Eves, he immediately objected and told Good Will-Hinckley’s board chairman the school had lost his support. LePage’s acting education commissioner, Tom Desjardin, later made good on that statement, ordering Department of Education finance staff to halt a quarterly payment to Good Will-Hinckley. According to OPEGA, the Hinckley board chairman told board members “that he had been assured that the State funding would be safe if the Speaker was not the President.”

The Hinckley board later reneged on its employment offer to Eves, and the state has since resumed paying Good Will-Hinckley.

LePage and his staff declined to speak with OPEGA, citing a pending lawsuit Eves has filed against LePage in federal court. (LePage’s lawyer in July had claimed OPEGA didn’t even have the authority to investigate the governor.)

The OPEGA report is informative and thorough, but it largely confirms and supplements what has been public knowledge for nearly two months. In fact, LePage himself has confirmed he threatened to withhold public funding from the school due to its choice of Eves. “To provide half-a-million dollars in taxpayer funding to a charter school that would be headed by Maine’s most vehement anti-charter-school politician is not only the height of hypocrisy, it is absolutely unacceptable,” LePage said in his June 25 news release.

The key questions that need answers now are legal ones: Was the governor’s threat to withhold these funds a proper exercise of his discretion, or did he overstep the bounds of his office to ensure a political opponent didn’t get a job? And, did LePage’s threat (and his administration’s actions) to withhold funds from Good Will-Hinckley constitute an illegal act in the form of improper use of public resources or the power of his office?

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee next month will have the chance to interview witnesses. Members should seek to answer those questions, and they should insist on interviewing LePage. The attorney general should investigate as well to determine whether LePage has broken the law.


The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...