THERE’S NO SUNLIGHT IN THE DARK

Can the legislative committee charged with shining a light on government do its work in the dark?

That was the question faced by the Government Oversight Committee this week, and fortunately its members came up with the right answer: a resounding “no.”

The committee was investigating the document-shredding scandal in the state’s Center for Disease Control & Prevention within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Employees have reported to investigators that they were ordered to destroy records from a competitive grant process that awarded $4.7 million to nonprofit agencies. The committee had subpoenaed five state officials after, on the advice of legal counsel, they refused to testify voluntarily. The lawyers then requested that their clients be allowed to answer questions.

The committee voted 7-3 Friday to hold its hearing in public, and the public heard from two officials who said they were ordered by their superiors to destroy documents. One, Andrew Finch, a senior program manager for Healthy Maine Partnerships, said he was uncomfortable with the order and instead of destroying the records he copied them to a disk, which he provided to investigators.

The destruction of public records is a serious matter, and so is rigging a grant process.

There is still much to be learned about what happened at the CDC and why it was done, and that couldn’t happen behind closed doors.

AHO’S INTERFERENCE

Ten days after being sworn in as commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Patricia Aho made a decision.

The longtime industry lobbyist set a tough standard for noise complaints against a Vinalhaven wind farm against the recommendations of her staff and an outside consultant, benefiting a client of her former employer, the Pierce Atwood law firm.

Now a state court judge calls that decision a violation of the spirit of the law, if not the literal legal definition of bias by a public official.

Aho had no “rational basis” for her position, wrote Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy, and she should not have been so closely involved with a matter with which she had an appearance of conflict.

Murphy has sent the decision back to the DEP to be decided again. This time, Aho would be wise to remember she is not working for Pierce Atwood anymore but for the people of Maine.

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

What must John Martin be thinking? It’s nice to be wanted, but you’d like it to be mutual.

First, a slip of a clerk’s finger put the letter “R” instead of “D” next to the lifelong Democrat’s name on a candidate’s list, sparking speculation that Martin might be pulling one of his famous acts of parliamentary legerdemain to get back into the Legislature (he was defeated in 2012, his first loss in a nearly 40-year career).

Then, of all people, Gov. LePage said he missed having Martin around, saying his experience and sophistication were missing in Augusta.

If Democrats were given one wish, there would be a new governor elected next November. But if they can’t have that, a few probably wouldn’t mind seeing LePage trying to navigate a second term with Martin representing his party in a top leadership role. Former Republican governor and LePage golf partner John R. Mc- Kernan Jr. might be able to explain why having Martin back could make LePage miss Justin Alfond.

COGNAC DOESN’T SHOOT PEOPLE

With the Portland Police Department after their liquor license, the owners of Sangillo’s Tavern have announced that they’ve stopped serving Hennessy and Remy Martin brand cognacs, luxury brandies imported from France.

The owners say the drinks were causing misbehavior, but since both brands are associated with rap music and heavily marketed in African-American media, the move looks somewhat sinister.

The bar owners are free to sell whatever they want but when they make a public statement about the people who use a certain product, they open themselves to suspicion of racial bias.

The truth is, alcohol in any form is the problem. It’s more a question of how much people drink than what brand, and controlling the amount served should be where the bar owners focus.