June 9, 2012

Chairman: No 'witch hunt' held at MSHA

But some lawmakers tell Peter Anastos that he should tone down his inflammatory rhetoric.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The chairman of the Maine State Housing Authority's board of directors told legislators Friday that "we weren't on a witch hunt" against Dale McCormick before she resigned as head of the agency in March.

Peter Anastos also said a partial state audit confirmed questionable spending and priorities by the authority under McCormick.

Some lawmakers, meanwhile, told Anastos that he should tone down his inflammatory rhetoric.

Anastos was one of just two people who spoke during a public hearing Friday before the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee. The committee met to hear public comments on a preliminary audit report that revealed no fraud in the agency but recommended tighter spending and accounting practices.

The Legislature asked for the audit, which continues, based on public accusations of financial mismanagement by the housing authority. McCormick resigned under pressure, denying any wrongdoing but saying she wanted to end the rancor between her and the new Republican-led board of directors. McCormick, a Democrat, is a former legislator and state treasurer.

The coordinated media campaign against McCormick was later criticized as a witch hunt, but Anastos said Friday that the efforts produced positive changes.

"There has been no fraud," Anastos said, but many people "have suffered needlessly in substandard housing for years."

He criticized McCormick for "gallivanting" on unnecessary business trips while subsidized housing was not being inspected adequately, among other things.

"A change in direction at MSHA was long overdue," Anastos said.

Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, said Anastos and other critics were right to raise questions about the housing authority.

However, Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, took Anastos to task for continuing to go after McCormick with "sensational" criticism like his "gallivanting" remark.

"You can't go make these kinds of statements about people and about the program and wonder why people get defensive," Diamond said.

Sen. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, said it is time to move past what she called a public personality conflict. "I really think that the level of rhetoric does need to be toned down," she said.

Meanwhile, Larry Grimard of Jefferson told the committee that he is still angry about questionable spending by the housing authority, such as on a plan to sell carbon credits based on energy savings.

"My tax dollars have been expended in ways that never benefited" people who needed housing, he said.

He also said officials in the agency should be held accountable for using personal credit cards to pay for agency expenses such as computer equipment, a practice that can generate reward points for employees. "Who owns those sky miles?" he said.

The housing authority's acting director, Peter Merrill, told lawmakers Friday that the use of personal credit cards, along with reimbursements for meals and travel, are now more tightly controlled than in the past.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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