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Politics

Maine Governor at Odds With Human Rights Commission Head

AUGUSTA, Maine - Gov. Paul LePage is defending his involvement in a religious discrimination case pending before the Maine Human Rights commission. The commission's executive director, Amy Snierson, says the governor did contact her about the case.  But she and governor have different recollections of what occurred.
 
The Maine Human Rights Commission has found reasonable grounds that Dan Beck, the co-owner of  Moody’s diner in Waldoboro, discriminated against a waitress who was living with his son.  According to the investigator’s report, the waitress and Beck’s son were accused by Dan Beck of "not following Jesus."   

Beck believes the investigation by the commission was flawed, and went straight to the governor with his complaints.  Gov. LePage says he meets with Mainers that have complaints about government all the time, and so he called up Executive Director Amy Snierson about the case.

"The response I got was - I couldn’t believe it - I asked if I could meet with her. Wow," LePage says. "And the prior person that was there, Pat Ryan, was fantastic. You could call her any time and she would answer questions all day long. I mean, I was shocked at the response I got."

Snierson has a different recollection of the call. She says she told the governor she was willing to meet and discuss the commission process, but  is prevented by law from discussing a case that is still pending before the commission.

"I talk to people all the time and I offered to talk to the governor about our process," she says. "What I would not do is talk about this particular case because it is still pending before the commission."

The five-member panel, three of them LePage appointees, has 90 days after a finding of reasonable grounds to vote on whether to take the case to court. That has not yet happened.  The governor told reporters he is concerned that the commission may not have gotten the complete story because only a portion of an audio tape transcript Beck considers crucial to the case was provided to them.

"I’m particularly concerned there was an audio of a meeting and they only took a snippet of it for the commission and they left most of the audio out," he says, "and that is a concern to me."

But Snierson says that is an area she cannot discuss because of the laws that govern the commission’s activities. "Even once a case is closed the commission is required to keep the identities of third parties to a case confidential, and that is an issue with some of the evidence the governor is talking about here," she says.

The governor says he is having a lawyer in his office review the case to make sure the proceedings were fair. But his involvement in the case at all is drawing concerns that he is improperly getting involved in a quasi - judicial proceeding.  

John Christie of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting first reported the story.
 
"Well, I can’t find anything right now that prohibits him from being involved, there is nothing that allows him to be involved in the process," Christie says. "But I can’t discover anything; I’ve talked to a number (of people) that say he’s not allowed to be in the process. So it’s a gray area."
 
Meanwhile, the governor is expressing his displeasure with the commission by not signing a financial order transferring $4,500 from one account to another at the agency. Snierson says while that poses a financial hardship for the agency, it is still operating.  She says she will meet with the governor to discuss the way the commission operates anytime he wants. But she can’t discuss active cases.