Thursday, April 17, 2014
AUGUSTA -- The four-month-old LePage administration announced a Cabinet shakeup Wednesday as Darryl Brown resigned as commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection amid conflict-of-interest questions and the commissioner of economic development departed in an outcry over his "unbecoming" comments.
Gov. Paul LePage said Brown would be appointed his director of the State Planning Office, which his proposed budget would disband by Jan. 1. He also unveiled Lt. Gen. Robert Winglass (Ret.), of Auburn, as his pick for commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor.
Phil Congdon resigned Wednesday as commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development over comments he made about affirmative action and the parenting skills of people in Aroostook County, and his statement that people who live in northern Maine need to "get off the reservation."
Congdon, who was confirmed by the state Senate in January, made those comments during a chamber of commerce event in Caribou and a meeting in Presque Isle on April 1, according to several sources.
Brown resigned Wednesday after the attorney general wrote he was "unqualified" to serve under Maine law.
Questions about Brown's eligibility for the DEP job, based on federal law, emerged just days after he was sworn in in February. The Kennebec Journal reported in March that state law also appeared to call into question whether Brown was eligible.
Brown owns Main-Land Development Consultants, an environmental consulting firm with 12 employees based in Livermore Falls.
By state law, anyone who has received, in the two previous years, at least 10 percent of their income directly or indirectly from clients who receive or apply for permits or licenses under the federal Clean Water Act may not be commissioner of the DEP.
The state law mirrors federal law, except a violation of the federal law doesn't make a commissioner ineligible to serve, but results in a loss of federal permitting authority.
Maine Attorney General William Schneider issued a letter Wednesday that said it appeared Brown was ineligible.
Schneider's letter said that if Brown couldn't produce documents showing there was no conflict of interest, he would be unqualified to serve. That created a problem for Brown, because Schneider noted that any documentation he provided would be considered public record.
Release of those records could hurt Brown's business, which consults for other companies on land-use issues, said Brown's personal attorney, L. Clinton Boothby.
Brown said Wednesday that he was "obviously" wrong in his interpretation of the rules allowing him to serve, but that Maine's law is "silliness."
"It truly is nothing more than silliness," he said. "It precludes anybody with any kind of experience, and the kind of management that's required at a department like the Department of Environmental Protection, to be left out of the process and not be able to be involved."
Brown said he "has to believe" that many previous DEP commissioners served in violation of the law.
In a press release, LePage criticized Maine's law as "inflexible." He said he has spoken with legislative leaders about changing it.
Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP, said, "Why the attorney general released this letter is a mystery to us in the (DEP) and the governor's office as well."
DePoy-Warren said officials in the Attorney General's Office were "interjecting themselves" into an issue that was not pending before them and "acting independently."
Environmental attorneys who had criticized Schneider for not looking into the issue sooner praised his action Wednesday.
"We called on the Attorney General's Office to do a thorough and objective examination of the facts and to apply the law to those facts, and I think one has to recognize that the attorney general has done that," said Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation of Maine. "It may not be the easiest thing to do politically, but it is the right thing to do with respect to applying the law to the facts."
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