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As Pressure Mounts, Dems Join GOP Push for Maine Housing Accountability

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by Terrilyn Simpson

Maine State Housing Authority in Augusta

The legislative bill aimed at holding the director of the Maine State Housing Authority accountable to the MSHA board, in keeping with other quasi-governmental agencies in the state, has been propelled into the bipartisan political arena with co-sponsorship support from two well respected Democratic legislators.

Democrat support of the accountability bill comes on the heels of news of the imminent resignation of long-time McCormick deputy Adam Krea. Krea is currently Deputy Director at MaineHousing, and previously served under McCormick as senior staff accountant at the Maine Office of the Treasurer.

The author of the Director Accountability bill — Senator Jonathan Courtney, a Republican from  York County — announced this week a co-sponsorship list of nine legislators which includes two Democratic representatives. Courtney is the Republican Majority Leader.

The pending legislative bill removes the accountability murkiness of the current statute — which grants unlimited power to the MSHA director, who is currently appointed by the governor to a four-year term and authorized to make sweeping financial and policy decisions with little input from or explanation to the board of commissioners. The director is currently answerable to no governing body or higher office — except for a vague and fleeting reference to a removal provision which could be instituted by the governor for inefficiency or malfeasance.  Critics of the current lack of accountability have expressed frustration that many of the MSHA director’s procedures and actions have seen little light of day – and then, often too late in the process for any kind of scrutiny.

The accountability bill is entering the public forum in the same time frame as an announcement from the office of current MSHA Director Dale Mccormick, that she is pulling all Section 8 low-income housing contracts in the state from all housing agencies — and reassigning the positions to her office.

The director’s office has said it does not know how many positions will be affected at this point, but that the positions will be taken over within the next six months — and perhaps as soon as  February.

Little explanation was provided by MSHA, except for an announcement that Director McCormick was taking bold steps in reaction to MSHA lack of oversight that came to light following coverage of severe problems of low-income housing in Norway, Maine.

Also revealed this week in the Maine Wire, was the director’s doling out of between $144,000 and $147,000 in non-performance related bonuses to all MSHA staff members in 2010. Each employee received $1000, regardless of their length of employment.

The Accountability Bill specifies that the director “serves at the pleasure of the commissioners of the Maine State Housing Authority,” — removing the automatic four-year term. It also removes the provision of law “that states that the powers and duties of the Maine State Housing Authority, with certain exceptions, are vested solely in the Director…….”

Democratic legislative leadership previously attempted to block consideration of the bill.

Representative John Tuttle, a Democrat from Sanford, has signed on as a co-sponsor, as has Democratic Representative Paul Gilbert of Jay.

The Democratic Party website touts Representative Tuttle as “one of the most experienced lawmakers in the Legislature having served in the Maine Senate for two terms and this being his eleventh non-consecutive term in the House.” Tuttle is a former high school and collegiate wrestling champion who works as an emergency medical technician.

Democratic Representative Gilbert has more than 30 years private and public sector management  experience, according to the Democratic website, and along with being an active union member, serves on a number of social service boards, including the Senior Plus Western Maine Area Agency on Aging where he assists people to access information regarding the “circuit breaker” program. He also serves on the boards of a community action program and another that assists people with mental illness. With his wife, he also founded the Good Neighbor Fuel Fund, to help any former Wausau Mill workers affected by the mill closing, with emergency fuel assistance.

Republican co-sponsors of the bill include Representative Robert Nutting of Oakland, who is Speaker of the House, President of the Senate Kevin Raye from Washington County, Representative Susan Morissette of Winslow, Senator Chris Rector of Knox County, Senator Thomas Martin of Kennebec County, Senator Debra Plowman, the Assistant Republican Majority Leader, from Penobscot County and Representative Kerri Prescott of Topsham.

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently the executive producer of the Kirk Minihane Show. Follow him on Twitter @BigSteve207.

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