AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has approved a financial order that will keep the man who is Maine’s de facto education commissioner — but hasn’t been confirmed by legislators — in office through 2018.
The order essentially allows acting Education Commissioner William Beardsley to continue leading the department by funding a “public service executive” position through April 2018, calling the position one with “high external visibility and involvement in executive-level educational issues and decision-making.”
It’s not the first time the Republican governor has used procedural quirks in Maine law to name department heads. Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, a member of the Legislature’s Education Committee, called it “yet another end-run around transparency and due process.”
LePage named Beardsley acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Education in October and nominated him for the permanent job earlier this year. But LePage pulled the nomination back in February after he said Democrats on the Education Committee were “planning to unanimously oppose him solely for partisan political games.”
The Maine Senate must approve nominations. A negative committee recommendation makes it much harder for a nominee to gain approval.
Democrats indicated concern about Beardsley’s involvement in a scandal involving the late Rev. Robert Carlson, who died by suicide in 2012 amid a police investigation into allegations that he sexually abused boys, and Beardsley’s past comments on transgender students.
Beardsley was president of Husson University in 2005 when a Maine State Police report said he was approached with allegations of abuse against Carlson — then the school’s chaplain — and took them to Carlson, who resigned. He has denied knowledge of wrongdoing.
In 2010, Beardsley addressed transgender students in a radio debate with LePage during their gubernatorial primary, saying there are “decisions being made for them that are outside what we call our normal activities here in the state.”
LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz didn’t respond to an inquiry on the financial order — signed by Beardsley as the “acting commissioner” and bearing a stamp indicating the governor’s approval — on Wednesday.
However, it allows him to take the new position on April 18, coinciding with the end of the six months that he’s allowed to serve as acting commissioner. LePage said in February that he wouldn’t nominate anyone else to serve in that role and that the governor would act on the department’s behalf on any matter that required a commissioner’s approval.
LePage has become adept at using legal loopholes to select department heads. When a commissioner leaves a department, state law says the vacancy must be filled by an employee in the department. Beardsley wasn’t one, except for a one-day appointment to the department the same day he was named acting commissioner. LePage used similar appointments for Beardsley predecessor Tom Desjardin and an acting environment protection commissioner.
In a statement, Millett said the department’s work “touches nearly every single Mainer at some point in their lives” and that Mainers “deserve vetted leadership” at the helm and “not a disciple of Gov. LePage who slid into the job through a back door.”
CLARIFICATION: In November 2016, a representative of the LePage administration noted that the new public service executive position was not created specifically for William Beardsley.