Employees who have impeded his administration’s efforts to improve the culture of state government have been “corrupted by the bureaucracy,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a letter to state workers Friday.
The culture must change from “no” to “can do!” LePage wrote, but some employees have not come on board, and want to keep doing things the way they always have been done.
“Quite frankly, that attitude is unacceptable. In my opinion, it shows they have been corrupted by the bureaucracy,” he wrote.
The governor wrote the letter a day after he made remarks about “corrupt” middle management in state government during a town hall meeting in Newport.
In response to a question about state license fees, LePage said state government is inefficient and so big that it needs the “trick” of fees to function. He said he and the five Cabinet members who were with him agreed with the questioner’s perspective but they have little control over some state positions.
“Believe me, there is a lot of good and hardworking people that work for the state. They are not the problem,” he said at the meeting. “The problem is, the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be. Believe me, we’re trying every day to get them to go to work, but it’s hard.”
The comment drew sharp criticism Friday from the Maine State Employees Association, which said it was “baseless” and “insulting” to honest public servants. The union represents more than 8,000 state employees, including supervisors ranging from director of a fraud investigation unit to lottery field supervisor to Marine Patrol lieutenant.
“Outside the governor’s office, the use of state resources to help family and friends is almost unheard of,” Ginette Rivard, the union’s president, said in a prepared statement.
She would not elaborate on the comment, which was an apparent reference to the hiring of two LePage family members into the executive branch.
In his letter, issued shortly after the union’s statement, LePage said state employees who are working hard for fellow Mainers and following the leadership of their commissioners should keep up the good work. He said those who are dragging their feet because they don’t like the administration’s direction need to get on board or get out of the way.
“When the union bosses tell employees they should not participate in the Administration’s initiatives and instead just ‘ride it out,’ we are dealing with a lack of integrity. In other words, we are dealing with corruption,” he wrote.
LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said that when the governor made his remark about “corrupt” middle management, he wasn’t talking about crimes such as demanding bribes, but about employees who cling to the status quo and delay progress sought by the administration.
Bennett agreed that the word “corrupt” is normally associated with crime, but refused to say that LePage made a poor word choice.
“The governor has always expressed himself with powerful words, and this is no different,” she said.
She said the administration has heard of several instances of workers putting up roadblocks, delaying the receipt of information or “riding out” the current administration. She would not give examples.
None of the five state commissioners who attended Thursday’s Capitol for a Day event in Newport would discuss whether corruption — in either sense of the word — is an issue in their departments.
Representatives for Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho said their bosses had no comment.
The spokesman for Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass said Winglass couldn’t be reached, while the spokesman for Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen would only refer questions to Bennett. The spokesman for Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt said he would seek comment, but did not call back or return calls.
House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said the tone of the work environment is set by the people in charge: the governor and his commissioners.
“To use such strong, negative and hurtful language to describe the work force of the state of Maine is not a way to inspire action or change or build confidence from your employees,” she said.
Sen. David Hastings, R-Fryeburg, said it was clear to him that LePage was expressing frustration about changing direction in a bureaucracy.
“I think it was a pretty poor choice of words, and probably he would agree,” Hastings said.
Newport Town Manager Jim Ricker, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he did not think that LePage was talking about criminal corruption.
“I think there’s a frustration everywhere with bureaucracy,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s federal, state or local. A lot of citizens see that we have regulated ourselves into a corner.”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: