This month marks the one-year anniversary of when I first filed a Freedom of Access Act request for the notes that Gov. LePage took during his meetings with a group of “sovereign citizen” conspiracy theorists. Despite several follow-up requests and a public declaration by LePage that the notes do, in fact, exist (albeit written in a secret shorthand code that only he understands), they still haven’t been released.

I was pretty sure the notes existed even before LePage confirmed it – mostly because the governor’s prolific note-taking was a common topic of conversation among the individuals with whom LePage met.

They mentioned it frequently on their “Aroostook Watchmen” radio show (where they also discuss their theories about the government using mind control to perpetrate false-flag terror attacks against the American people).

‘COPIOUS NOTES’

On their show, they cited the fact that the governor was taking so many notes as proof of the merit of some of the extreme legal theories they were discussing, including their desire to arrest some of LePage’s political opponents for treason.

“You know someone’s listening when they ask the right questions, and he asked for clarification on very specific points and he took copious notes,” said show host Jack McCarthy on Aug. 10, 2013, discussing a 90-minute meeting with the governor, one of at least eight they held over a period of nine months.

“Gov. LePage filled two pages of notes, plus all the paperwork that we gave to him,” agreed Phil Merletti, another member of the group that calls itself the “Constitutional Coalition,” though its theories of government have little basis in the actual federal or state constitutions.

But the response I got back from the governor’s office, 3½ months after filing my request, was that the notes didn’t exist. They sent me hundreds of pages of email correspondence between the governor’s staff and Constitutional Coalition members, but not his notes from the meetings.

I again requested the documents last December, and LePage’s legal staff promised “an additional review of the Governor’s notes that are in the custody of the Governor’s Office,” but nothing more was forthcoming.

That was the last I heard until this June, when I published information about the meetings and the missing notes in an excerpt from my book, “As Maine Went.”

It was then that Gov. LePage called the Bangor Daily News to complain about its coverage of the meetings. He told the paper that he hadn’t been made aware of the Freedom of Access request and that I was welcome to his notes from the meetings. He warned, however, that they are in a shorthand code that only he understands.

Intrigued, I emailed his legal staff that same night to renew my request.

NO LEGAL BASIS

It’s been more than a month since then (and almost a year since my initial request), and I still don’t have the notes. His staff has so far refused to give any explanation except to say that an “examination of relevant documents” is “ongoing.” Reached by phone Friday, Deputy Counsel Hank Fenton refused to discuss the matter and said the governor’s office would get back to me next week.

According to veteran State House journalist Mal Leary (currently managing editor of Maine Public Broadcasting’s Capitol Connection TV channel), LePage has no legal basis to continue withholding the documents.

“If they exist, they are a public record. I don’t understand how he’s not providing them,” said Leary, who also serves as vice president of Maine’s Freedom of Information Coalition.

Maine’s data-retention laws probably don’t apply to these kinds of papers, according to Leary, but since LePage has acknowledged that the notes are in his possession, they qualify as public documents.

One fuzzy aspect of the state’s Freedom of Access law (and one that Leary’s group has attempted to make more precise through legislation) is a provision that documents be provided within a “reasonable” amount of time. Although the word isn’t defined in the statute, surely having to wait a year and make multiple requests to get access to some simple meeting notes isn’t anyone’s idea of “reasonable.”

‘INTERNAL TERRORISM’

LePage hasn’t exactly been a friend to the public’s right to know. In his first year in office, he told a meeting of legislative leaders that FOAA requests were a form of “internal terrorism.” The governor later told Leary that he instructed his staff to limit use of email in order to avoid FOAAs and because “they can’t FOAA my brain.” But his office has usually – eventually – been responsive to requests.

Other media outlets now know about and have also requested the notes, so hopefully LePage will finally be forced to provide them. We’ll still apparently have the problem of breaking his secret code, but that can’t possibly be more difficult than the process of obtaining these documents.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping