On Thursday, the Government Oversight Committee continued its investigation into what influence Governor LePage exerted on Good Will-Hinckley’s decision to fire House Speaker Mark Eves. While much of the focus was on what exactly the LePage administration communicated to Good Will-Hinckley staff, key revelations were discovered in the questioning of MeANS Chairman Bill Brown.
Brown, who also happens to be an employee of Eves and part of the search committee for GWH, gave testimony on Thursday that contradicted prior statements about his involvement in Eves’ hiring.
In a press release announcing that Eves had accepted the job with Good Will-Hinckley on June 9, the organization sent out a press release saying, among other things, “Per standard practice, any board member with political or personal ties recused themselves throughout the process.” As an employee of Eves, this would apply to Brown, chairman of the MeANS board.
Shortly thereafter, GWH fired Eves under pressure from the LePage administration. In a statement, LePage claimed that Eves’ hire was political cronyism, and directly pointed to Eves’ relationship with Brown as proof.
“This back-room deal between cronies is exactly the kind of political corruption I came to Augusta to fight against,” said Governor LePage. “Speaker Eves has been an ardent foe of charter schools for his entire political career, then he turns around and gets hired to run a charter school—whose board is chaired by Eves’ own State House employee—for a cushy job worth about $150,000 in total compensation. ”
In response to the governor’s questioning of the hiring process’ integrity, GWH released another statement. The new statement, however, carried a disclaimer with different language than before: “Bill Brown sits on the MeANS board, which has no authority over the hiring or firing of Mark Eves, but he also recused himself from any involvement in reviewing or advising on Mark’s application.”
In the first statement, GWH’s vague statement implies that Brown would have recused himself from the hiring process completely. In the revised press release, GWH clarifies that Brown recused himself only from “any involvement in reviewing or advising on Mark’s application.” Already, GWH was walking back its claim that Brown was not involved in Eves’ hiring.
In Thursday’s testimony, however, Brown admitted that he was much more involved in the hiring process than GWH claimed. Not only did Brown tell Eves about the job and encourage him to apply, Brown also reviewed Eves’ resume, coaching him through the application process.
Another revelation in Brown’s testimony was the fact that he answered questions from other board members about Eves during the hiring process. He also sat in on at least one interview with Eves. This contradicts GWH’s claim that Brown was not involved “in reviewing or advising on Mark’s application.”
Additionally, while GWH’s second disclaimer claims that MeANS board had no authority over hiring and firing Eves, it neglects to note that Bill Brown was part of the search committee that narrowed down the applicants and recommended Eves and one other to the board. The OPEGA report also notes that Brown joined the GWH board chair and GWH’s Vice President of Operations in an informal meeting late in the interview process. In testimony on Thursday, Brown claimed he was only there to observe.
More details as to Brown’s exact involvement are not available, as Republican Sen. Roger Katz, who heads the Government Oversight Committee, shut down questioning by Rep. Deb Sanderson about Eves’ qualifications for the job. The committee voted 6-5 to disallow any questions about Eves’ qualifications to be president of Good Will Hinckley.
Correction: An earlier version of this story claimed that Katz had joined Democrats in voting against questioning Eves’ qualifications. Katz did not vote on that matter.