June 2, 2012

Another View: Maine Housing board did not engage in 'witch hunt'

While there is no evidence of fraud, there are signs of wasteful spending at the agency.


A May 29 editorial accused the new Maine State Housing Authority board of conducting a "witch hunt" to remove the former executive director (Our View, "Housing agency report shows critics' motives"). Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's never been about politics or personalities. It's always been about helping the greatest number of vulnerable Maine families by stretching every precious taxpayer dollar.

As state treasurer and an MSHA commissioner, I was relieved when the limited review by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability found "no indications of fraud" in 2007-11 MSHA expenditures for sponsorships, donations, memberships, conferences and travel/meal expenses. Unfortunately, the report did confirm a pattern of wastefully spending taxpayer dollars at the MSHA.

A total of $458,411 was spent on sponsorships and donations to 73 organizations, some of which "did not appear to have a direct or clear connection to MaineHousing's mission." Fifty thousand dollars was spent on business travel by the former executive director, covering 40 out-of-state and two international trips, with some that "might be questioned as to their necessity." A total of $115,069 was spent on conference registration, travel and meals for 62 employees attending 89 mostly out-of-state events, with "some conferences seemed only indirectly related to the (MSHA) mission." And $309,409 was spent on all-day team-building events, diversity training, holiday, retirement and birthday celebrations and other professional development activities, with questions if some expenses were "necessary uses of MaineHousing funds."

I reject the argument that such spending should be measured against the MSHA's $14 million annual operating budget. Any amount of wastefully spending someone else's money is just what it is -- wasteful spending. This is Maine; every dollar counts. Plus, the money doesn't belong to government. It belongs to the taxpayers, and they work darn hard for it.

Bruce Poliquin is state treasurer and a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.


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