Good Will-Hinckley, the organization for at-risk youths at the heart of a legal dispute between Gov. Paul LePage and House Speaker Mark Eves, is in the final stages of selecting its next president, officials said Wednesday.

There are three finalists and the full board is expected to do in-person interviews with each candidate this month, according to interim President Rob Moody.

The president of Good Will-Hinckley also serves as president of its charter school, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield. The charter school receives state funds as a public school.

The search takes place in the wake of a political firestorm that erupted last summer, after the board announced Eves as its unanimous choice for president.

Two weeks later, the board abruptly withdrew its offer after LePage threatened to pull $530,000 in state funding from Good Will-Hinckley because he didn’t believe Eves, who has opposed charter school legislation, was the right fit for the private nonprofit academy. In the aftermath, the Legislature’s watchdog committee held hearings and the two men are now embroiled in a lawsuit.

On Tuesday, LePage filed a motion in U.S.District Court in Portland to dismiss the suit brought against him by Eves, claiming his role as the state’s chief executive grants him immunity and that he is otherwise protected by his First Amendment right of free speech. The lawsuit accuses LePage of using taxpayers’ money and the power of the governor’s office to prevent Eves’ hiring.

But Good Will-Hinckley’s board has been focused on finding its next leader, officials say.

Chairman Jack Moore acknowledged that the board “did a few things different this time,” in the hiring process, but he declined to elaborate in an email sent Wednesday.

“We are very happy where we are heading,” he wrote. “I look forward to sharing more but I am not sure if this is the best time. I will say, Good Will-Hinckley is on a great path and we are exceptionally happy about all of the school’s successes.”

LePage had criticized the previous hiring process, saying it was inappropriate for an Eves aide who also worked for the charter school to be involved. That aide, Bill Brown, was chairman of the board of directors of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at the time.

Brown testified during legislative hearings that he recused himself from any discussion of Eves’ consideration for the job, but participated in discussion of other candidates. Brown said he did, however, inform Eves about the position at Good Will-Hinckley and advise his boss on which aspects of his professional and political career he believed were most relevant to the job.

Brown recently resigned from the board, Moody said.

Moody said more than 20 people applied for the position, with a mix of candidates from Maine and from out of state. Five members of the board, along with several staff members, formed a search committee to narrow down the candidates.

The final three candidates were selected in the fall, and have already toured the campus.

“Hopefully (the board) will come up with a decision soon,” Moody said.

For more than a century the Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys and Girls served orphaned and needy children. The residential school closed in 2009, citing financial reasons, and the charter school opened in its place in 2012. The school, which has 126 students enrolled this year, offers a curriculum based in agriculture, forestry and hands-on learning.

The charter school was the first to open in Maine, and has always had its president serve a dual role with Good Will-Hinckley. Another charter school scheduled to open next fall, Snow Pond Arts Academy, will have a similar relationship to the 80-year-old New England Music Camp.

In both cases, the charter school has contractual relationships with the affiliate to provide certain services, but is a separate entity with an independent board of directors.

Having a charter school president that serves a dual role with a parent organization is fine with the Maine Charter School Commission, which authorizes and oversees charter schools, according to commission Executive Director Bob Kautz.

Moody said the Good Will-Hinckley board has also discussed the dual role of the president, and supports it.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

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Twitter: noelinmaine

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