This week, Maine State Housing Authority Director Dale McCormick confirmed what many had suspected– that she was using her position as a government official to funnel money to preferred political organizations, that she spent public funds in an irresponsible way, and that she was willing to bend the truth to cover her actions. All of this was made clear in her shameful performance at the Housing Authority board meeting on Friday.
McCormick attempted to brush aside in a number of different ways revelations about her agency’s spending. She labeled donations to political groups ‘outreach’. She called hundreds of trips to Las Vegas, Florida, and other exotic locales ‘training’. She referred to taxpayer-funded personal massages given to employees at a staff retreat as ‘wellness’.
At one point in the meeting, McCormick was asked about a donation to the left-wing activist group Maine Initiatives, self-labeled ‘Maine’s leading social justice organization’. The group was described by MSHA board chair Peter Anastos as a ‘who’s who of Democrats’, and a quick perusal of its board reveals a list of Democrat luminaries including Chellie Pingree, Justin Alfond, and Brownie Carson.The clearly partisan nature of the organization makes it off-limits to public funds, but McCormick made the donation anyway. When she was asked about the purchase of a sponsorship at the annual meeting of this self-labeled progressive political action group, McCormick said, “I hadn’t realized or read that they were left-wing.”
Maine Housing explained away a handful of their hundreds of lavish hotel and bed and breakfast expenditures as travel and accommodations for ‘training and conferences.’ But nowhere did MSHA explain why a state agency that claims a decrease in federal funding will mean ‘people will die’, according to McCormick, would send its employees all over the nation attending conferences on the public dollar, when the thousands spent on these trips could have purchased heating oil for the needy Mainers the agency is mandated to support.
MSHA categorized the list of stays of bed and breakfasts throughout Maine as accommodations for staff meetings. Let’s think about this – MSHA pays more than $600,000 a year to lease a massive building, complete with multiple conference rooms, on the Augusta waterfront. But for some reason, this building will not suffice for staff meetings. Instead, McCormick used public funds to host meetings at the Whitehall Inn in Camden, or the Black Point Inn in Scarborough, or the Maple Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast in Hallowell. Again, all of these funds could have been diverted to heating assistance or affordable housing.
McCormick’s team also brushed aside questions about expenditures for massage therapists, magicians, motivational speakers, DJs , and martial arts instructors by listing their use as part of ‘all staff day.’ We’ve yet to learn the details of ‘all staff day’, but it appears Maine Housing uses public money at least once a year to hold blowout parties that include tent rentals and massages for staffers. While 6,500 Mainers wait for affordable housing, and many more go without heating oil, Dale McCormick and her team are living it up as part of what McCormick calls a ‘wellness program’.
When pressed by commissioners about the details of these expenditures, McCormick and her team repeatedly said things that weren’t true. Board Chair Peter Anastos asked McCormick why the left-wing blog Dirigo Blue was able to get expenditure details that she refused to release through a Freedom of Access Act request filed by The Maine Heritage Policy Center. McCormick claimed ‘no one gave Dirigo Blue anything’, and surmised that the blog was able to get the details from the MSHA website. When pressed whether the information was even on the MSHA website, McCormick denied making the statement.To be clear – there was no expenditure data on the MSHA website, McCormick made this up out of whole cloth. McCormick put up a tortured attempt to distance herself from the selective release of expenditure data, but further inquiry revealed Maine Housing, under McCormick’s supervision, had indeed fed the information directly to the blog.
The Housing Director’s truth-stretching continued unabated. McCormick claimed Maine Housing’s bond rating was ‘two notches’ above the state of Maine’s bond rating. State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin pointed out that this, too, was untrue.
McCormick claimed her donation to the political group Equality Maine was for advertising. She claimed a $15,000 donation to a prison theater group was to help deter homelessness. She even claimed she was unaware that MSHA made expenditures to her former domestic partner. McCormick’s casual relationship with the truth was shocking, even to those of us familiar with the less-than-honest tendencies of the political process.
The Maine State Housing Authority is in a state of disrepair. Issue after issue has revealed an incompetent management structure – from $300,000 per unit costs for affordable housing, to unlivable conditions for Section 8 apartments, to the inexplicable lack of grown-up decision making when it comes to discretionary expenditures. And all of this has taken place during a period where MSHA salaries increased by more than 30 percent – roughly three times the growth of the rest of state government.
McCormick’s conduct at the board meeting was shameful, continuously interrupting and insulting the commissioners, and her performance as director has been an embarrassment. Her dismissive attitude toward her own board, her unwillingness to be candid with them about MSHA operations, and her record of disrespect for the Maine taxpayer shows clearly why more authority needs to be given to the MSHA board – specifically, the authority to relieve Ms. McCormick of her position.