A public records advisory panel will not review the Maine Warden Service’s handling of requests for public documents by the Maine Sunday Telegram when it meets next week, despite being asked to do so by legislative leaders earlierthis month.

The Right to Know Advisory Committee normally takes its direction from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which has not issued any request, said Sen. David Burns, a Republican from Whiting who chairs both panels.

Burns said the committee may take up the issue at a later meeting, but he has not included it on the right to know panel’s agenda for Wednesday.

“If some issue is raised that’s within our purview, we’ll take it on,” Burns said.

The newspaper says officials from the Maine Warden Service have repeatedly refused Freedom of Access Act requests for access to public documents concerning an undercover warden who ran operations in at least five different counties.

The newspaper’s six-month investigation, titled “North Woods Lawless,” detailed allegations that game wardens padded evidence, provided alcohol to people who were being investigated and invented events that did not occur during a two-year investigation in Allagash, which resulted in fines for wildlife law and other violations and short jail terms for several individuals. The undercover agent provided guns, ammunition, transportation and a searchlight to one target of the probe, and shot a deer to encourage the subject to poach, the story found.

The warden service’s investigation culminated in a raid that was filmed for the “North Woods Law” television series.

The Warden Service has released some requested documents, some of which were heavily redacted, but has failed to produce emails between its staff members and the producers of “North Woods Law.”

As of Wednesday, the warden service said it will not be able to release the requested emails for another month or longer because the agency’s chief, Col. Joel Wilkinson, won’t be working.

“Unfortunately, (Wilkinson) will be on leave and unavailable due to personal matters for 4-6 weeks or longer,” Warden Capt. Shon Theriault said in an email to the newspaper.

The leaders of both houses of the Legislature said Thursday that they were aware of Burns’ decision and planned further discussions on when the issue could be heard by the advisory panel.

“There are ongoing discussions about it happening,” said Jim Cyr, a spokesman for Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, had asked in a letter dated June 9 that the right to know panel to take up the issue. He called it “the next logical step in ensuring all government agencies are held appropriately accountable for satisfying our commitment to a transparent state that works for every Mainer.”

Eves’ spokeswoman, Lindsay Crete, said Thursday that the speaker still wants the committee to review the issue.

“The speaker is still really committed to having it go to the Right to Know Advisory Committee,” Crete said. “He feels this is still the right committee to hear the issue.”

Another legislative panel, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, questioned Wilkinson, IFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and state Ombudsman Brenda Kielty about misconduct claims raised in the North Woods Lawless article and public records requests on June 1. But that committee, which has oversight of the Warden Service, took no action.

Rep. Kim Monaghan, co-chairwoman of the Right to Know Advisory Committee, believes the issue should have been included on the June 22 agenda, but also understood Burns’ position.

“He and I had an email exchange, and I respectfully disagree with his position,” Monaghan said. But she added, “He’s not going to shut the door on this. He’s a fair-minded guy.”

Monaghan said one of the responsibilities of the committee is to advise government agencies to promptly acknowledge receipt of public records requests, provide reasonable time lines of how long it will take to comply and then to follow through.

“My impression was the Right to Know Advisory Committee would be a good place to start,” she said.


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