September 8, 2013

Jail system study group missing a key voice

Somerset County, which is suing the state Board of Corrections, was left off a legislative panel.

By DOUG HARLOW Morning Sentinel

(Continued from page 1)

Jodi Quintero, communications director for the office of the speaker of the House, agreed with Westrum, saying no name from Somerset County was ever recommended to leadership through any of the four county associations in Somerset -- county commissioners, county administrators and managers, the sheriff or the jail administrator.

She said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, welcomes anyone from Somerset County to sit in on the commission meetings and to offer their ideas once the public meetings begin.

"We never had the opportunity to chose someone from Somerset County because we were never given a recommendation of a name from someone from Somerset County," Quintero said. "I don't know what happened; I just know that leadership did not make a decision to exclude Somerset County. We were never given a name from Somerset County to chose from. There is no discrimination toward any county."

Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, disagrees. He said he asked that Quinn serve on the study commission and wrote an email to Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, saying so.

The email was sent July 31, according to a copy sent to the Morning Sentinel.

"I'm not pleased that we don't have somebody from Somerset County representing the commission," Whittemore said. "I did write a letter to the Senate president strongly suggesting Lynda Quinn to be appointed to sit on that committee. To my knowledge, I did not get a response. It's a little suspicious. It's not really fair, which is what I stated in the letter."

Erika Dodge, spokeswoman for the Senate Democrats, said in an email Friday that Alfond did respond to Whittemore, though it's not clear what Alfond said or why Whittemore didn't receive the email.

Frost said he submitted his name, with the blessing of the five-member board of Somerset County commissions, on July 10. Whittemore offered Quinn's name on July 31.

The deadline for submitting names was July 26, 30 days after passage of the legislative order to form the study commission June 27.

Westrum, at the Board of Corrections, said each of the four county associations was given proper notice that if a county official was interested in being considered for the study commission, the associations had to submit names to the president of each of the four associations.

Frost offered his own name and Whittemore offered Quinn's name too late, and neither used the proper channels to submit names, so no one was chosen from Somerset County, he said.

Citing a funding shortfall that would lead to mass layoffs and threaten corrections officers' safety, the Board of Corrections in August voted to send lawmakers a budget that would fund the state's jails fully for the rest of the year.

The problem is there is not enough money to fund the jails fully. It will be the new commission's job to find that money.

Roy said no deadlines were missed and Somerset County, which has the greatest jail debt and some of the poorest communities in Maine, was left out -- plain and simple.

"We have nothing to say about this," he said. "Shame on the Legislature."

Somerset County filed a civil suit against the state Board of Corrections in May for payment of more than $280,000 the county says it is owed for operations at the Somerset County Jail for the third quarter of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

dharlow@mainetoday.com

 

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