AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said this morning that the business advisory council he created last week is the first of four such “think tanks” he hopes to use to get ideas for improving the state.

In addition to the business community, he wants to meet with teachers, those in higher education and environmentalists.

“It’s all about having a think tank of people that can be frank and honest and tell you what’s going on,” he said at the Blaine House. “And then from there, I bring it to my staff and see if we can help.”

Reporters then asked him to explain why he felt it was important to exempt the panel from the state’s Freedom of Access Act, which means the meetings will not be public. Several groups, including the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine Heritage Policy Center, criticized LePage in a story that appeared in today’s editions of The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

LePage said he didn’t realize that the exemption would create controversy when he signed the executive order last week. He said this afternoon that he had known the exemption was included in the order, clarifying his morning remarks.

“Basically, these are people we want to be able to sit around a table and say it the way it is. They don’t want to be in the press, they don’t want to be public. They are not public workers,” he said.

LePage said he wants to find solutions to make the state better.

“There’s no secrecy here,” he said. “If they want to do it on the steps of the Blaine House, I’m fine with it too. But some of these people want to be frank and honest and open and they don’t want to be exposed to the same scrutiny and exposure that we see every day.”

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