March 4, 2012

Our View: Backers should show housing bill is no witch hunt

A fair compromise would make clear that this is not just an attempt to oust Dale McCormick.

A bill designed to reform the Maine State Housing Authority has been criticized here and elsewhere as a blatant attempt to politicize an independent state agency.

The effort has looked to many observers like a witch hunt against the authority's executive director, Dale McCormick, led by State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, because it would allow a majority of the board of directors named by Gov. LePage to fire McCormick before her term expires.

Backers of the bill say we've got it wrong. They say it is a good-faith effort to fix what's broken at the agency that manages millions in state and federal tax revenues.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, says his bill would take the politics out of MaineHousing, by making its administration more accountable to its board of directors.

If that's so, there's an easy way to prove it. There is a proposed amendment to the bill that would delay implementation until McCormick's term expires in 2014.

The agency is currently under investigation by the state Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability for its spending practices. If that review finds that McCormick did anything wrong, she could be removed.

But changing the law so the governor's political allies on the board can vote to fire her without cause does not look like an attempt to depoliticize the board. And it would invite an equally blatant political reprisal if the Blaine House should change hands in a future election. Amending the bill to delay its effective date would send a message that this is a serious reform and not just a naked political grab.


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