Gov. Paul LePage has decided to suspend his plan to form councils to advise him in private on business, education and environmental matters.

LePage’s executive order March 3 exempted his planned business advisory council from the state’s Freedom of Access law, meaning that its meetings and records would not be open to the public.

LePage said at the time that being able to have candid, private conversations with business people who don’t want to be in the news would be beneficial.

The governor’s order drew objections from Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, the Maine Heritage Policy Center and MaineToday Media, parent company of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.

The public backlash convinced the governor to put his plan for all advisory councils “on hold,” LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Thursday night. She said that doesn’t mean he has scrapped the idea.

LePage’s chief concern in putting his plan on hold was protecting prospective members of the business advisory council from intense media scrutiny, Bennett said.

“The governor has too much respect for the people who would have served on the council. To have them undergo the same amount of scrutiny he has been put under … he just wouldn’t do that,” Bennett said.

MaineToday Media sent a letter to LePage soon after he issued his executive order, arguing that it violated “the letter and spirit of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.”

“The Order effectively eradicates the government’s accountability to the public on critical issues to the people of Maine — jobs and the economy,” the letter says.

Sigmund Schutz, one of the attorneys who has advised MaineToday Media on the issue, said the governor’s decision “is a huge victory for the public and a vindication of the newspapers’ position.”

He said the newspapers did not object to the governor forming the business advisory council, but to the fact that its meetings would be held in private.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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