MaineHousing accountability bill gets unanimous "Ought to Pass" from committee


by Terrilyn Simpson

A unanimous pro vote on the MSHA Accountability Bill in legislative committee on Thursday was a strong first step in shifting power at the Maine State Housing Authority, from the executive director to the board of commissioners.

The bill, in essence, means that the director would serve at the pleasure of the board of commissioners.

LD 1778, An Act Relating to the Governance of the Maine State Housing Authority, received a unanimous Ought to Pass from members of the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development. Senator Chris Rector (R-Knox County), the Committee Chair, sponsored the final amendment, which had eliminated a controversial two-year delay in implementing a portion of the bill, if it is passed, that will make the director accountable to the board for the first time in the 40-year history of the housing authority. The bill establishes “that the commissioners are responsible for the performance review and termination of the director.”

The bill also “establishes that the powers of the Maine State Housing Authority are vested in the commissioners, and removes the provision that vested that authority with the director, as well as removes provisions that limited the role of the commissioners.” The bill also gives power to the commissioners to establish and revise policies at the Housing Authority.

The housing authority has been the only quasi-governmental agency in the state in which the executive director has no accountability to an oversight body. Currently, the director can be removed from office only for inefficiency or illegality and only by a complex legal proceeding initiated by the governor.

The bill also establishes that the commissioners, instead of the governor, will establish the rate and amount of compensation of the director.

Current director Dale McCormick has come under fire in recent months for exorbitant expenditures and a failure to include cost restrictions in the awarding of contracts for low-income housing development.

The bill also provides that the director would be charged with oversight of the administrative affairs and technical activities in accordance with rules and policies established by the commissioners.

The motion for an ought to pass, to move the bill forward, was made by Representative John Tuttle (D-Sanford), the ranking minority member on the committee. Tuttle had previously withdrawn co-sponsorship support of the bill. Tuttle’s motion was seconded by the committee co-chair, Representative Kerri Prescott (R-Topsham).

The bill, sponsored by Senator Jon Courtney (R-York County), now moves on to the Senate.