LEWISTON — Two legislators plan to ask for an investigation into allegations that officials at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention ordered a director to shred public funding records and assaulted and harassed her when she refused.
State Sen. Margaret Craven and Rep. Peggy Rotundo, both Lewiston Democrats, said Wednesday that they're drafting a letter to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and plan to submit it this week.
"We feel very strongly this needs to be looked into," Rotundo said.
Sharon Leahy-Lind, director of the CDC's Division of Local Public Health, sent a complaint of discrimination to the Maine Human Rights Commission this week alleging, among other things, that her bosses ordered her to destroy documents that showed the scoring results for the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships organizations at the center of last summer's controversy over state funding. She said the scoring was manipulated to favor certain organizations over others.
Through her lawyer on Tuesday, Leahy-Lind said the official scoring results posted on the CDC's website differed from the scoring results she was told to shred.
Those scores determined which organization got hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding.
Leahy-Lind said she refused to destroy the documents and instead stored them in files at her office. She said she was harassed and assaulted by the the CDC deputy director and the director of the Office of Minority Health/Office of Health Equity, including being called "a stupid-ass goody-two-shoes."
Leahy-Lind said the work environment was so hostile that she had trouble breathing and took a medical leave. She said she did not take the scoring documents with her. When she requested them later, they were missing from the paperwork she received.
For months, members of Lewiston-Auburn's legislative delegation have questioned the way the CDC divvied up the Healthy Maine Partnerships funding. Healthy Androscoggin in Lewiston lost more than half of its funding last summer while, in a surprise move, the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition in Rumford was given a bump in funding and named to lead the tri-county western region.
Craven and Rotundo said Wednesday that they want an official state investigation into the matter.
"These are public dollars, and the people have every right to know how they're distributed and to know and be confident they're distributed fairly," Craven said.
Craven, who is a member of Healthy Androscoggin's board, has said she was concerned that funding was redesigned last summer to be politically manipulative. Lewiston-Auburn's delegation is largely Democratic, and members can be outspoken about Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
On Wednesday, a LePage spokewoman called Craven's suggestion "absurd."
"The governor's office had no input into this process," Adrienne Bennett said in a written statement. "Sen. Craven may not realize that Gov. LePage was born and raised in Lewiston. For the senator to speculate that he has a vendetta against his hometown is absurd."
Bennett also took issue with Craven's assertion that the LePage administration has not been transparent. Bennett pointed out that the U.S. Public Interest Research Group last week increased Maine's transparency rating by a full letter grade, from a D-minus to a C-minus, after the unveiling of Maine Open Checkbook, a transparency initiative of LePage's.
"The governor has worked on other initiatives to improve transparency and accountability in other areas," Bennett said. "He introduced and signed legislation to improve the financial disclosure requirements of legislators and senior executive branch employees, and he established Saturday office hours to meet Mainers one on one to discuss their concerns and issues. Additionally, the governor's office created an interactive website to encourage Mainers to share their proposals about how to save money in state government."
Bennett said the governor's office had no comment on Leahy-Lind's allegations.
Although Leahy-Lind did not name the deputy director or the director of the Office of Minority Health in her complaint, Christine Zukas is the CDC's deputy director and Lisa Sockabasin is the director of the Office of Minority Health. Both women have held those positions since 2006 and were there during the time outlined in the complaint.
Through the CDC spokesman, Zukas declined to comment Wednesday. Sockabasin did not respond by the deadline Wednesday evening.
The CDC has declined to comment on Leahy-Lind's allegations because of the impending action Maine Human Rights Commission case.
However, in regard to her assertion Tuesday that scoring results on the CDC's website differed from those she saw and was told to destroy, spokesman John Martins said different working documents were circulated during the scoring process, and scores may have differed from one draft to the next. Earlier this week, he said scores never changed so significantly that an organization jumped to the head of the line for greater funding and lead-agency status.
On Wednesday, Martins said he erred in that statement, and that while the lead agency did not change in Lewiston's district, it did change in others, including in Bangor.
Once lawmakers' request for an investigation is sent to OPEGA, the office's director will forward it to the Government Oversight Committee. That committee will then vote on whether to allow the office to investigate. That committee will meet later this month.
Craven is chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, which deals with the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services. She also is a member of the Government Oversight Committee.