The not-guilty verdict is in, but the execution is already over.
Critics of the policies of the Maine State Housing Authority and its former director, Dale McCormick, did not get much fuel from the state’s watchdog agency for their case that the quasi-governmental agency has been misusing government funds.
The Office of Program Evaluation and Governmental Accountablity released its findings Friday and found that MaineHousing may have spent more on food and entertainment than do state agencies (coffee and creamer were free there, but not at the Department of Transportation).
But there was no evidence of out-of-control spending or fraud, as there had been at the Maine Turnpike Authority, the independent agency that MaineHousing critics most often cite.
Even with the criticisms, this report would have been good news to McCormick if she hadn’t already been forced out of her job. The Legislature passed a bill that gave a majority of the MaineHousing board the ability to fire her without cause, and it has been clear for some time that was what they intended to do.
McCormick had been the subject of a witch hunt since Gov. Paul LePage took office, not for overspending on employee meals, but for her agency’s policies that favored multi-unit affordable housing projects that reused historic buildings in urban centers.
The dispute on policy got personal, as illustrated by recently uncovered email exchanges between board Chairman Peter Anastos, State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, members of the LePage administration and the not-for-profit Maine Heritage Policy Center.
The goal of all these interests was to “boot Dale out,” and the documents indicate that they all worked together to achieve that goal.
Republican lawmakers had a chance to prove that they were not engaged in a personal witch hunt when they considered the MaineHousing reform bill.
They could have waited until the OPEGA report was complete before taking the steps that led to McCormick’s resignation. Or they could have let the new accountability rules take effect after she finished her term, which would have expired in 2014.
Instead, they needlessly trashed a public servant’s reputation and politicized what is supposed to be an independent agency, both moves that could have repercussions for many years to come.