BOOTHBAY HARBOR — Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday that state Attorney General Janet Mills has put his office on notice that she intends to fine his administration for violating Maine’s open meeting laws when it convened the first meeting of a ‘blue ribbon” commission on education behind closed doors in April.

At the time Mills said the meeting, held at Blaine House, was a clear violation of the law. The commission, which was created by the Legislature and LePage, was being headed by the state’s acting Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley.

LePage mentioned “a suit against the Department of Education,” during his town hall meeting Wednesday evening at the Boothbay Regional Elementary School. LePage again characterized the education commission meeting as, “a get to know you” session and not an official meeting, although Beardsley had previously circulated a meeting agenda containing several presentations on education policy or policy proposals.

“Now the Attorney General is going to have to give me money, or the Department of Education money so they can hire a lawyer,” LePage said. But he also seemed to acknowledge the administration did violate the law saying, “they are going to get a fine, so they are going to have to give us the money for the fine because it’s the commission that’s fined not the individuals. What a waste of time.”

LePage blamed the suit on outgoing Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

Maine’s Freedom of Access Law requires most elected bodies and those created by the Legislature to hold meetings in public. The fine for a violation can be up to $500.

Several state lawmakers challenged LePage’s staff when they were told they could not attend the education panel’s meeting and Democratic lawmakers who were on the commission, including state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, protested holding it behind closed doors but did not leave themselves. In a letter to Mills, Eves asked her to look into the matter and hold the administration accountable.

Attempts to reach Mills’ spokesman Timothy Feeley were not immediately successful Wednesday.

During the hour-long town hall meeting, LePage also hit on several of his mainstay talking points including his opposition a ballot effort to increase the minimum wage in November, his efforts to reduce Maine’s income taxes and electricity rates and his ongoing dislike of the print media in Maine.

LePage also took a moment to tout presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. LePage appeared with Trump in Bangor last week, but reiterated he would not be attending the party’s national convention in Cleveland at the end of the month. When asked by an audience member why he wasn’t going, LePage responded, “Because I don’t need to go, it’s been determined.”

The meeting Wednesday was attended by about 40 people, not including the media, LePage’s staff and security detail.

Unlike some recent town hall meetings, there were no protesters and the handful of questions directed to LePage were largely favorable.

Alden Mann, 82 of Boothbay Harbor, said he’s been a LePage supporter since 2010 when he heard the governor speak prior to the Republican primary that year. Mann said he agreed with most of what LePage had done during his time as governor. He said he has followed politics in Maine since the 1940s and has listened to politicians, “promise all these things that are suppose to bring prosperity to Maine and they never happen.”

“But I have not been unhappy with (LePage), he’s a fighter and I like Trump and Trump likes him,” Mann said of the governor.

Dawn Gilbert, 73 of Boothbay, said she had become friends with LePage and came to show her support Wednesday. She also said she agreed with LePage’s efforts to curb welfare abuse and lower energy costs in Maine by importing more electricity from hydropower plants in Quebec.

“I just don’t understand why we aren’t doing more to lower our electricity rates here in Maine,” Gilbert said.


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