May 31, 2012

Maine Voices: News coverage of efforts to straighten out MSHA appears lacking

By PETER ANASTOS

Volunteering my time to be the chair of the Maine State Housing Authority board has proved to be far more time-consuming, challenging and frustrating than I ever would have expected.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Anastos is the chairman of the Maine Housing Authority board of directors.

In my wildest dreams, however, I never thought my emails would be scrutinized – with a few being cherry picked – in an attempt to show a concerted "witch hunt" of Dale McCormick, the former MSHA executive director.

Nowhere in any of the emails in my possession is there any mention, plan or discussion of how to "boot out" McCormick by myself, by Bruce Poliquin, the state treasurer, or by Lance Dutson, director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Yes, we certainly received emails asking us to make such a change.

But there is no way we could be expected to control that.

Viewed in their entirety, the group of emails chronicles the frustration and outrage we had about MSHA problems and our inability to obtain information.

During the past year there have been numerous articles in newspapers throughout the state about the serious problems at MSHA.

Clearly, the most serious problem involved the incredible inspection failure rate of Section 8 housing administered by MSHA.

Although this issue was extensively covered elsewhere, MaineToday Media all but ignored the story.

The news reports in other newspapers detail a report by the inspector general of the United States which says more than 90 percent of units overseen by MSHA failed inspections.

Shaun Donovan, secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Uban Development (HUD), sent a three-page letter to Sen. Susan Collins outlining his department's displeasure with MSHA as did David Montoya, inspector general of the United States.

HUD's Boston office has contacted MSHA about reinspecting more than 3,000 federally subsidized units administered by MSHA. Further, MSHA is at risk for having to reimburse all inspection fees.

HUD correspondence refers to the situation as "shocking" and question MSHA's ability to "administer the program."

Much of this occurred while the former executive director attended 42 out-of-state or international conferences from Denmark to Japan from 2007 to 2011, according to Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA).

Meanwhile, MSHA continually received reports over the past four years about the failing low-income federally subsidized Section 8 housing units in Norway.

These failures were finally brought to light in an expose last fall in the Norway Advertiser Democrat. Articles followed in other Maine publications not associated with MaineToday Media.

During these five years, costs escalated to nearly $300,000 for new MSHA apartments. Nearly $5 million was spent on a questionable computer system.

And a carbon-credit selling scheme was implemented that is, to date, more than $1 million under water, with the market for the credits in a free fall.

These are the reasons a change in direction was so critical at Maine State Housing. Extremely expensive green energy programs, carbon trading and social issues were being pursued by the agency while those most in need suffered.

Not only did MaineToday Media decide not to cover certain problems at MSHA, they even expressed the opinion that there was a witch hunt to remove McCormick and that her reputation was unnecessarily trashed.

I would submit that MaineToday Media's incredibly selective coverage reflects their obvious agenda.

It would be nice if the Press Herald could put its politics aside when they cover those of us who volunteer our time and resources to stop the bleeding in Augusta.

Expressing views in an editorial is one thing. Selectively editing the facts is something else entirely.

In the meantime, the new board at MSHA has totally revamped the scoring process to include strong cost controls on new construction. It will continue to work hard to repair relations with HUD, and to deal with the $5 million computer problem and carbon trading scheme shortfall.

Since the change in leadership and passage of L.D. 1778, the level of cooperation between the board and Peter Merrill, the interim executive, and his staff has improved immeasurably.

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