Where is state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin when we need him?
Poliquin, you’ll recall, led the charge against Maine State Housing Authority Director Dale McCormick before she waved the white flag and resigned in March. Among her numerous transgressions, claimed Poliquin and his ilk, were “all-day team building events” for her staff that were nothing more than a day of hooky on the taxpayer’s dime.
“I reject the argument that such spending should be measured against the MSHA $14 million annual operating budget,” harrumphed Poliquin in an email blast as recently as June. “Any amount of wastefully spending someone else’s money is — wasteful spending. This is Maine; every dollar counts. Plus, the money doesn’t belong to government. It belongs to the Maine taxpayers, and they work darn hard for it.”
Which brings us to this invitation, which went out Monday to the 200 employees in the Maine Office of the Attorney General:
“This year’s event will be similar to last year’s — the yoga and tai chi instructors are already lined up, we’ll have BYOB (breakfast) in the morning, a dessert competition after the BBQ lunch and hopefully beautiful weather so you can relax by the lake.”
I’d tell you which lake, but AG spokeswoman Brenda Kielty asked that I withhold the date and location “for security reasons.”
Suffice it to say that an expected 120 or so of the attorney general’s work force will spend a day — a paid workday — chowing down on barbecued steak, chicken or tofu dogs, kayaking or canoeing, playing softball or tennis, and even lining up for a free shooting lesson from Attorney General Bill Schneider himself.
Think I made up that last one? Read on …
“AG Schneider will host a shooting range for BB Guns and Air Rifles ONLY. Due to understandable liability concerns, the (property owner) asked us to limit this event to BB Guns and air rifles. The AG is a gun enthusiast and can teach you to shoot and have a friendly competition with those who believe their skills are better than his. The AG will bring the guns and ammo.”
(Never, not in a million years, did I ever think I’d write a column containing the words “The AG will bring the guns and ammo.”)
Now don’t get me wrong. When it comes to staff retreats, I’m in complete harmony with The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which recommends at least one staff retreat per season to cultivate “an entirely different and powerful orientation toward work, vision, community and self.”
“It may require a leap of faith to take a precious eight hours out of the month (or even year),” notes the center on its website. “But that kind of commitment signifies an understanding of the importance of the dynamic relationship between process and product and a willingness to invest in the long-term sustainability of your workplace.”
Seriously, who during these difficult economic times can argue against the long-term sustainability of any workplace?
But here’s the problem: That’s not exactly the kind of talk we’ve heard coming out of Augusta in the past couple of years.
We have a governor who thinks state workers are “corrupt” and constantly solicits suggestions for “getting Maine’s fiscal house in order.”
We have a state treasurer who’s obsessed with “helping the most number of vulnerable Maine families by stretching every precious tax dollar.” And we have a Republican majority in the Legislature that begins and ends each day with the mantra that Maine’s state government is bloated, inefficient and riddled with bureaucratic waste.
Yet here we have the entire Attorney General’s Office heading for the lake — on the clock, no less — and we hear not a peep from the GOP guard dogs. My calls and emails Thursday to Gov. Paul LePage’s and Treasurer Poliquin’s offices seeking their thoughts on the outing got no response whatsoever.
And when I checked The Maine Wire, the uber-right-wing Maine Heritage Policy Center’s not-really-news service, all I found was a photo of LePage holding a canoe paddle and a story about how the United Nations is apparently taking over Maine’s forests.
As for the Attorney General’s Office, spokeswoman Kielty said in an email that the annual retreat has been going on for “approximately 13 years,” meaning Schneider inherited it from his predecessors Steve Rowe and Janet Mills, both Democrats.
The cost — $710 for the facility and lifeguard plus $8 to $12 per person for lunch — will be paid “through the OAG (Office of the Attorney General) settlement account, in which portions of some legal settlements are set aside for office and litigation expenses,” Kielty wrote.
The program also will include a yet-to-be-determined morning speaker who will “educate the members of the office on a consumer protection topic,” Kielty said. (How about “What to look for in a BB Gun”?)
Asked if her boss wished to weigh in on the propriety of using public funds (and paying his workers) for such a shindig during these austere times, Kielty forwarded this from Schneider:
“In a time when the salaries of the members of the office have been frozen for years, the increased morale and camaraderie and more sophisticated understanding of consumer protection that results from the retreat is very important. The members of the office have an extremely heavy workload, and they will accomplish all of their work with renewed enthusiasm after this retreat.”
No argument there, Mr. AG. Especially considering that the scrapbooking session, the knitting circle, the Ping-Pong and the bocce ball will be supplemented by a little, shall we say, friendly competition among lawyers.
“Remember, this is your day and the AG wants you to have a good time,” advises the invitation, written and distributed by staffer Martha Demeritt. “If that means a water balloon fight between divisions, so be it.”
(A shooting competition? Water balloon fights? I’m no lawyer, but this thing has “workers’ comp claim” written all over it.)
Of course, if you’ve ever been to one of these affairs, you know that watching your co-workers sashay around in bathing suits often can be about as much fun as a root canal. But Demeritt has that covered that as well.
“The AG understands that not everyone may be interested in a day out of the office and that’s okay,” she wrote. “This is not a mandatory event.”
Nor is the planning quite finished.
“Please let me know what activities appeal to you, and if you are willing to be the point person for an event,” requested Demeritt.
If I might, they should definitely add a dunk tank. And while they’re at it, persuade a high-profile celebrity with a smile that won’t quit to serve as the target.
I’m thinking Bruce Poliquin.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: