Saturday, May 18, 2013
By Ann S. Kim firstname.lastname@example.org
Gov. Paul LePage told state workers in a letter Friday that employees who have impeded his administration's efforts to improve the culture of state government have been "corrupted by the bureaucracy."
Gov. Paul LePage
He said the culture needs to change from "no" to "can do!" but that some employees have not come on board and that they want to keep doing the same thing because it was always done that way.
"Quite frankly, that attitude is unacceptable," LePage wrote. "In my opinion, it shows they have been corrupted by the bureaucracy."
The letter was sent a day after LePage made remarks about "corrupt" middle management in state government during a town hall-style meeting in Newport. In response to a question about fees, LePage said that state government is inefficient and so big it needs the "trick" of fees to function. He said that he and the five state agency commissioners with him agreed with the questioner's perspective, but that they have little control over some state government positions.
"Believe me, there is a lot of good and hard-working people that work for the state. They are not the problem," he said at the meeting. "The problem is the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be. Believe me, we're trying every day to get them to go to work, but it's hard."
Thursday's comment drew sharp criticism Friday from the Maine State Employees Association, which said it was baseless and insulting to honest public servants working for the state. The union represents more than 8,000 state employees, including those in supervisory positions ranging from director of a fraud investigation unit to lottery field supervisor to marine patrol lieutenant.
"Outside the governor's office, the use of state resources to help family and friends is almost unheard of," said Ginette Rivard, the union's president, in a prepared statement.
She would not elaborate on the comment, which appeared to be a reference to the fact two LePage family members work in the executive branch.
In his letter, issued shortly after the union's statement, LePage told state employees who are working hard for their fellow Mainers and following the leadership of their commissioners to keep up the good work. He said that those who are dragging their feet because they do not like the administration's direction need to get on board or get out of the way.
"When the union bosses tell employees they should not participate in the administration's initiatives and instead just 'ride it out,' we are dealing with a lack of integrity. In other words, we are dealing with corruption," he wrote.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said that when the governor made the initial remark about corrupt middle management, he was not talking about criminal activity like demanding bribes, but about employees who cling to the status quo and delay progress sought by the administration.
Bennett agreed that the word corrupt is normally associated with criminality, but she supported LePage's word choice.
"The governor has always expressed himself with powerful words, and this is no different," she said.
She said the administration has heard of several instances of workers putting up roadblocks, delaying the receipt of information or "riding out" the current administration. She would not give specific examples.
None of the five commissioners who attended the Capital for a Day event in Newport on Thursday would comment about whether corruption -- in either sense of the word -- was an issue in their departments.
Spokeswomen for Health and Human Service Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho said their bosses had no comment. The spokesman for Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass said he couldn't be reached, while the spokesman for Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen referred questions to Bennett. The spokesman for Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt said he would seek a comment, but failed to call back or return a reporter's calls.
House minority leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said the tone of the work environment is set by those in charge, the governor and his commissioners.
"To use such strong, negative and hurtful language to describe the workforce of the state of Maine is not a way to inspire action or change or build confidence from your employees," she said.
Sen. Dave Hastings, R-Fryeburg, said it was clear to him that LePage was expressing frustration about the ability to change direction in a bureaucracy.
"I think it was a pretty poor choice of words, and probably he would agree," Hastings said.
Newport Town Manager Jim Ricker, who attended the evening meeting, part of the governor's Capital for a Day program, said he did not think LePage was talking about criminal corruption when he heard him speak Thursday.
"I think there's a frustration everywhere with bureaucracy," he said. "I don't care if it's federal, state or local. A lot of citizens see that we have regulated ourselves into a corner."