The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures

Ethics update

Long state-agency hangover from that $295 bottle of wine
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  February 28, 2007


In the wake of a study showing that fewer than half of 126 quasi-governmental state agencies say they have ethics rules despite prodding last summer by Governor John Baldacci, his administration is moving to force all of them to have codes that forbid conflicts of interest and other transgressions by officials.

The need for such codes on the part of the so-called “independent” agencies came to light when the Portland Phoenix broke the story of a $1342 restaurant dinner a Maine Turnpike Authority consultant bought for five authority officials and three other turnpike consultants in June of last year. The dinner featured filet mignon, lobster, and a $295 bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine (see “E-ZPass on Ethics,” by Lance Tapley, August 4, 2006). It was one of many turnpike feasts financed either by consultants holding lucrative contracts with the agency or by the coins the public throws into the toll baskets. The authority had no regulations prohibiting such excesses.

After this story, a squishy, whirring sound was heard across the state:

-Turnpike director Paul Violette first discounted that his agency should be bound by the kind of rules that have long prevented regular state departments from similar indulgences. But as the publicity mounted, he apologized to Governor Baldacci, his agency adopted an ethics code, and turnpike managers and board members submitted to ethics retooling seminars.

-Baldacci commanded finance and administration commissioner Rebecca Wyke to push the independent agencies to adopt codes, if they hadn’t adopted them already, and she sent them a model. The governor doesn’t have direct power over these organizations, which include the University of Maine System (has a code), the Maine Humanities Council (has no code), the Maine State Housing Authority (has no code), and many smaller ones like the Kim Wallace Adaptive Equipment Loan Program Fund Board (has a code). But he threatened legislation to compel them to adopt one.

-The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, a group of editors and reporters devoted to government accountability, released a study in February reporting that only 45 percent of the independent agencies said they had an ethics code as of the end of 2006, although most of the rest said they were on their way to adopting one. Thirty agencies, however, did not bother to respond to the coalition’s questionnaire, despite, as pointed out by Mal Leary, coalition president, all of them being bound to disclose such information to the public by Maine’s Freedom of Access law.

-The promised bill to force codes of ethics on recalcitrant agencies is expected to soon pop out of the legislative hopper. A draft provided by Commissioner Wyke says the agencies must “develop a Code of Ethics to guide the operations and financial administration” of their organizations. In perhaps its most far-reaching particular, it gives the state controller oversight of agencies’ compliance as it applies to finances.

Leary, dean of the State House press corps and operator of Capitol News Service, says he is optimistic the legislation will pass.

  Topics: This Just In , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, University of Maine System,  More more >
| More

Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MICHAEL JAMES SENT BACK TO PRISON  |  April 16, 2014
    The hearing’s topic was whether James’s “antisocial personality disorder” was enough of a mental disease to keep him from being sent to prison.
  •   LOCKING UP THE MENTALLY ILL  |  April 03, 2014
    The merger of the prison and mental-health systems continues
    The conference was held in March despite the risk of a snowstorm because its organizers wanted “to reach the Legislature while it’s in session,” co-coordinator Fred Horch said.
  •   ANATOMY OF A RIP-OFF, PART II  |  March 06, 2014
    Imagine if state government gave out millions of dollars a year to fat-cat financiers, big banks,  and speculative ventures without monitoring how the money is spent — basically, giving it to whoever walks in the door as long as they flash a few credentials.
  •   ANATOMY OF A TAXPAYER RIP-OFF  |  February 19, 2014
    To try to restore several hundred mill jobs to the historic paper-making North Country towns of Millinocket and East Millinocket, Maine’s politicians, in a bipartisan manner, have given away and are planning to give away millions of taxpayer dollars to various corporate interests, including big, out-of-state banks.

 See all articles by: LANCE TAPLEY

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2014 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group