After Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan admitted he improperly discussed a pending case with a Land Use Regulation commissioner, Gov. John Baldacci has ordered his cabinet members to undergo refresher training on discussions with regulatory agencies.
“They got to be reminded,” Baldacci said in an interview Thursday. “Guidance is being provided through the Attorney General’s Office and what I have done is direct the counsel, Mike Mahoney, my counsel, to work with the guidance that has been provided with the other commissioners and make sure they all know.”
Baldacci said several commissioners, including McGowan, have regulatory bodies within their agencies.
All cabinet members need to be sure that any contact they have with regulators is within the limits of the process established by the agencies.
“The process needs to be protected,” Baldacci said. “The people who I have appointed to the board I respect greatly their decision making, and I want that adhered to.”
He said he has been assured that the improper discussion did not influence LURC decisions.
“I should not have talked to that commission member,” McGowan said Thursday. “That was an error, and I fully admit it. I should not have done it; it was wrong.”
He said the improper discussion took place after a vote on a proposed wind power project by Maine Mountain Power on Redington Mountain near Sugarloaf.
LURC rejected the original plan that called for 30 turbines on two mountains and later approved 18 turbines on one mountain.
The project was controversial. Several environmental groups opposed the original proposal. The scaled-backed project was suggested by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
McGowan said if he had been trying to influence the vote on the larger project, he would have approached the commission member before the January vote.
“I just left the Attorney General’s Office and there was nothing illegal done,” McGowan said. “I was advised that I should refrain from discussions about particular projects, but I can in fact discuss with the staff that works at the Department of Conservation their needs and issues.”
Assistant Attorney General Jerry Reed, who advises LURC, refused to comment. He spoke to the LURC Wednesday morning about the issue at a public session, but later refused to summarize his advice.
Attorney General Steve Rowe couldn’t be reached for comment.
Several state laws and regulations govern proceedings of the quasi-judicial agencies like the LURC.
Baldacci said he was assured that McGowan’s inappropriate contact, which he said was clearly wrong, had not swayed any votes on the panel.
“The commissioners have indicated that this did not influence their votes,” he said. “That’s important.”
McGowan said he had approached a commission member because of his concern about the speed with which the panel was handling applications and the strain that was placing on staff.
While LURC is independent, its staff is part of the Department of Conservation and the administrative responsibility of DOC.
“I am concerned about the staff and the amount of workload they have,” McGowan said. “There has been a tremendous increase in the workload at LURC.”
LURC met Thursday in Greenville, but calls to its chairman and co-chairman were not returned Thursday evening.
By Mal Leary
Capitol News Service
3 August 2007
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