CDC officials deflect blame in document-shredding probe

Document-shredding probe

AUGUSTA — After six hours of testimony Friday from the six current and former Maine Center for Disease Control officials at the heart of a state document-shredding probe, two things became clear.

Quotes from Friday's Government Oversight Committee meeting:

"(Andrew Finch) said to me, 'Deb, there's something I need to tell you. I was asked to destroy documents. I wasn't comfortable doing it and I didn't do it.' And he said, 'I left the meeting and I hadn't said I would or wouldn't, but I knew that was not something I wanted to do. And I said, 'I think you need to do what you think is right. You know, what you need to do.' ... I think we each need to have our own compass as to how we act." 

— Debra Wigand, CDC division director

"In my mind I didn't even consider anything about there was an attempt for concealment or anything like that. That never occurred to me. That wasn't something that would have been what I expect from us, from what we do." 

— Debra Wigand

"How I recall that discussion was more in the context of, 'Jeez, it would be kind of embarrassing if Bangor didn't get the award because the director, Shawn Yardley, was co-chair of the SCC. But I did not take that as a directive, an order or as an instruction to change anything. And I didn't change anything. What I took that as was a comment of irony." — Healthy Maine Partnerships Senior Program Manager Andrew Finch

"I had never been instructed to do that in my 18 years as a state employee."

— Andrew Finch, on being told to destroy public documents

"Chris Zukas told me that I should never, ever email her or Lisa (Sockabasin). She said any communication with them should be done via instant message on my BlackBerry. I didn't know our state-issued BlackBerries has instant message on them ... she said this is the way that Lisa, Dr. Pinette and I communicate because anything we do over instant message can't be FOAA'd and it doesn't have to be released."

— Sharon Leahy-Lind, former division director for the CDC

"I wish that I had packed my bags that very day and left that organization."

— Sharon Leahy-Lind, on her reaction to being told not to use email to communicate

"The Healthy Maine Partnerships is not within my scope of work whatsoever."  

— Lisa Sockabasin, director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity

"I was never told to shred these documents. I recycled these documents."

— Lisa Sockabasin

"What I think was happening was we were sailing through uncharted waters. ... we weren't even certain if what we were doing was appropriate."

— Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine CDC

"(DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew) was surprised, as was I, initially. She asked me why she would do that. And I explained to her what (Zukas) had explained to me about government being able to practice version control."

— Sheila Pinette

"I was not intimately involved (in scoring). I did not totally understand it."

— Christine Zukas, deputy director of the Maine CDC

"I either put it in the shredder or put it in my recycle bin."

— Christine Zukas, on a scoring document she took from the CDC director

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, asks questions to Maine Center for Disease Control officials in Augusta on Friday. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Maine Center for Disease Control Director Sheila Pinette listens during a public meeting of the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee in Augusta on Friday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Debra A. Wigand, director of public health for the Maine Center for Disease Control, and her attorney, Eric Uhl, answer questions during a public meeting of the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee in Augusta on Friday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Andrew Finch, left, senior program manager for Healthy Maine Partnerships and his attorney, Eric Uhl, answer questions during a public meeting of the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee in Augusta on Friday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lisa Sockabasin, director of the Office of Health Equity, listens during a Government Oversight Committee public meeting in Augusta on Friday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Former Maine Center for Disease Control official Sharon Leahy-Lind, right, confers with her lawyer, Cynthia Dill, during a public meeting of the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee in Augusta on Friday.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Christine Zukas, deputy director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, listens during a public meeting of the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee in Augusta on Friday.

Deputy Director Christine Zukas told employees to destroy public documents related to funding for the Healthy Maine Partnerships program.

And scoring was changed at the end of the competitive grant process, sending public money to a favored partnership whose original scores didn't support it — possibly at the direction of CDC Director Sheila Pinette.

"I believe it was Dr. Pinette. It could have been the (CDC work) group, but I believe that's how it happened," Zukas said. "There was a belief that the (original scoring) methodology must have been flawed to come up with results that were so unexpected."

Little else became clear Friday as the six contradicted each other, blamed each other and, in some cases, pleaded ignorance or poor recollection about the process they helped create or oversee.

"If a meeting occurred (with Pinette), I probably was there, but I do not remember the conversation," said Lisa Sockabasin, director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity.

However, despite initial concerns that some of the six would refuse to speak in public, they answered all of the Government Oversight Committee's questions — even if the answer was, "I don't know."

The committee had subpoenaed Pinette, Zukas, Sockabasin, Division Director Deborah Wigand, Healthy Maine Partnerships Senior Program Manager Andrew Finch and former Division Director Sharon Leahy-Lind to appear before it as part of its investigation into document-destruction at the CDC.

Five of the six had asked that the committee go into executive session, a move that could have effectively sealed their testimony from the public. The committee refused, voting 7-3 Friday morning to keep the meeting open.

Only Leahy-Lind, whose document-shredding allegations led to the investigation, did not ask to testify behind closed doors.

The allegations came to light last spring when Leahy-Lind, then-director of the CDC's Division of Local Public Health, filed a complaint of harassment with the Maine Human Rights Commission. She has since filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit.

She has said her bosses at the CDC told her to shred public documents related to the grant funding for the state's Healthy Maine Partnerships program. When she refused, she said, she faced harassment and retaliation. She has since left her job at the CDC.

At the Oversight Committee's behest, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability investigated the CDC over several months. Its December report noted a host of problems, including supervisors who ordered the destruction of public documents, workers who created documents specifically to fulfill a Sun Journal Freedom of Access Act request, funding criteria that was changed during the selection process, Healthy Maine Partnerships funding scores that were changed just before the final selection, a tribal contract that OPEGA couldn't discern who was responsible for developing, reviewing or approving, and a critical scoring sheet that vanished.

Money, the investigation found, may have gone where it shouldn't have.

Under questioning Friday, the officials confirmed many of OPEGA's findings.

They painted a picture of a small, core group of CDC officials who hastily pulled together a competitive grant process so the department could hand out to 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships about $4.7 million that had come in late from the state. Criteria were created; scores were reached.

When the dust settled, they had created nine lead partnerships that would get more money and have greater responsibilities than the other 18. In the Penquis District, one partnership had the highest score and the lead position.

But then the scoring criteria were changed. The new criteria were subjective — based largely on CDC officials' opinions — and given twice the weight as some others. Suddenly, a different Penquis District partnership — Bangor Region Public Health and Wellness — had lead status.

Finch said criteria changed because the scores were too close, making the difference between them statistically insignificant.

Committee members didn't buy it.

"I tend to see life through sports," said State Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. "If the Patriots beat the Jets 21-20 and the Patriots have three touchdowns and the Jets have two touchdowns and two field goals, three points each, and after the game the NFL commissioner decides, 'You know what, we're going to give field goals four points instead of three, and now the final score is New York 22 and New England 21,' how is that different than what happened here?"

"I don't know that it is," Finch said.

Other witnesses noted that the person who oversaw the Bangor Region partnership — Shawn Yardley — was known and liked by the CDC.

The six current and former CDC officials generally agreed that there had been some surprise or concern when the first partnership scored higher than the Bangor Region HMP. But they disagreed about who, exactly, was concerned. And they disagreed about who wanted something done about it.

Zukas said she believed Pinette, the head of the CDC, directed the scoring methodology to be changed "to see what leads shook out."

"There was concern about Bangor not being in the lead," Zukas said.

Leahy-Lind also pointed to Pinette.

"I said, 'How did Bangor Public Health get to be lead? That wasn't what I had seen or what we had discussed at the last meeting,'" Leahy-Lind told the committee. "Dr. Pinette said, 'Oh, that's political.' I said, 'Political?' And she said, 'Well, Shawn Yardley's been a wonderful partner and he's head of the (Statewide Coordinating Council) and we really had to give it to them.'"

Pinette, however, told the committee that she didn't know Yardley was responsible for the Bangor Region partnership and she barely noticed that his group had fallen to second place. She said she approved additional scoring and weighting, but she didn't know that new scores would be so subjective.

She said she did not push to make Bangor the lead.

"What I think was happening was we were sailing through uncharted waters," Pinette said. "We didn't really know a process. There were a lot of bumps along the way. We weren't even certain if what we were doing was appropriate. So the criteria, I believe, as we were going along, my understanding was that we were trying to establish a criteria that was effective and fair. I think my staff was very thoughtful about trying to do that."

As the Bangor Region Healthy Maine Partnership made its way to lead agency, something else happened: Zukas told workers to destroy the working documents related to that scoring.

She told the Government Oversight Committee she did that after Pinette confused an old score sheet with a new one. Zukas said she routinely got rid of working documents while at the CDC, and in this situation she wanted the old score sheets to be destroyed as "version control" — and she said she told that at the time to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who oversees the CDC.

"I did not feel I was doing anything improper," Zukas said.

However, Leahy-Lind said Zukas ordered her to destroy documents because she believed someone would soon issue a Freedom of Access Act request for them. Zukas denied that, saying she had no way of knowing whether a FOAA request was coming.

Committee members questioned the truth of that.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if anyone learned about those changes in the rules and changes in the results, someone might start asking for documents, right?" Katz asked.

"One could come to that conclusion," Zukas said.

Pinette said she was shocked when she learned Zukas had wanted documents destroyed, though she acknowledged that she had given Zukas an old version of a scoring document when she asked for it.

"Was it your expectation that the document you gave to Ms. Zukas would be retained or destroyed?" state Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, asked.

"You know what, I don't know," Pinette said. "I just thought that she would take it and hold it. I don't know. I don't know what I thought. I just gave it to her. I just thought she would file it away, I guess."

The committee will resume its consideration of the CDC matter on Friday, March 28.

ltice@sunjournal.com

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Comments

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Lots of money to be "playing" with here........

You don't suppose there was a little "skimming" off the top in some of these manipulations? Hmmmmmm?
What I would like to see is a detailed report tracking every damned dollar going out of this department. Every last cent. It wouldn't be the first time people in government pushed money around in such a devious fashion that left some people a little "extra" bonus.
Yes, I am cynical, especially with this crowd under LePage.

Sort of gives a whole new meaning to the saying, "The buck stops here".

AL PELLETIER's picture

Me too, Joanne

Remember how Violet had a nifty way of embellishing himself with Turnpike Authority gift cards?

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Yes, Al, I do remember.

I always say when there are millions of dollars to deal with, there is the temptation to have a little "wiggle room". Know what I mean? I'm not saying this happened but I wouldn't be surprised.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

OK, where do we go from here?????????????

Everyone's had their say, the smoke is starting to clear away. Everyone's gone home for the week end so, what happens Monday morning? Six hours of hearings, we all know who did what and who got caught doing it, so now what. Are there going to be criminal charges filed? Is the Governor going to be held responsible for allowing this fiasco on his watch?
I seem to remember the Governor standing up and demanding that all requests for questions or answer's will go thru him. That no department head will be available , and that everything that happens he will answer for. I think he was mad at the Democrats for something and this was one of his hissy-fits.
I heard once that on any ship the captain is responsible for everyone's activities. I'm curious what Captain LePage has to say about the performance of his department heads in this matter. He has been surprisingly quiet during all of this.
I have this nagging feeling that this whole thing is somehow going to be politely swept under the State House rug , I mean this is an election year. This is no time for anyone to be accepting responsibility for anything.................

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

I really think

it is the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and Katz is going to come to bat and hit a grand slam on this. It appeared to me the once Andy Finch sang about the copies he had burned that Katz looked a bit peckish and pale knowing that those copies are safe for review and also Pinette after blowing all that air in the gitgo of stroy telling, ran out of steam once her rehearsed comments left her mouth and wasn't smiling as much.

I agree with LePage not making a peep or Bah's knows his little Mary Bo peep let her sheep wander to far before they could get them all back in the pen fast enough, since Andy and Leahy have been the bellwethers on this with better training and knowledge of SOP's.....much more were privy to the shenanigans afoot...

TOM WHITE's picture

I would hope the employees

I would hope the employees who destroyed public documents, or ordered them destroyed, would be dismissed.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Particulary if

that process of destruction was not in the SOP's...and it appears that it was Pinette and others under her, other than Leahy and Finch KNEW SOP's and the four others were never trained or ignored all processing once Mayhew had put Pinette in charge....it appears that Zukas was only concerned then after the final report and the meeting with Pinette and Mayhew and not ever before with the many more reports prior to that final...the timing is highly questionable besides the true necessity as Zukas claims.

I think Finch, sang like a bird , get it, bird, that he made it clear he had saved those ordered document s to be destroyed onto a CD, and that is now in discovery, probably for the first time and Zukas as yo may have noticed, was a little pale on the hot seat probably hearing that....

TOM WHITE's picture

I would hope the employees

I would hope the employees who destroyed public documents, or ordered them destroyed, would be dismissed.

TOM WHITE's picture

I would hope the employees

I would hope the employees who destroyed public documents, or ordered them destroyed, would be dismissed.

GAIL LABELLE's picture

Time to let them all go !

This kind of stuff happens all the time in state and federal government. Not all the time spoken about or made public knowledge.
If the two ladies were IM on their Blackberries they were full aware of these checks and balances and what information can be released or not.

Yes computers are watched, state phones are tracked, audits are computerized and record-keeping is current. However there is room for manipulation and I think this is what has happen here. They manipulated funding, tried to shred the evidence and basically got caught with their pants down. Yes they should be fired and or resign that is evident.

The all tried to pass the buck here on responsibility. Top down this is how the government has always function...so I say from the top down the pink slips should be handed out on Monday.

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

What a traversty

All those knowingly shredded papers should be fired, and those responsible for the directives for doing so should be persecuted and ALL pensions be forfeited. We need to send a loud and clear message to our public employees violating the law means loss of job and all I do mean ALL benefits associated with that job. By the way I wish some journalist would investigate the former turnpike authority person who was sentenced to 3 years for theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars only to serve less than 6 months (Only top officials that actually get caught get off with a bad boy slap on the wrist, or maybe some of the officials who were instrumental to his release were those who enjoyed some of those gift cards handed out by this criminal and maybe they want to keep that hush hush). , is he really where he is supposed to be or as rumor has it he has been enjoying life on the slopes, and if so that must be counted as a jail break and therefore subject as a felony thereby yanking his pension which he never should have gotten in the first place.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Keep in mind

All of those documents to be destroyed were saved by Andy Finch burned to CD, so I am sure those are going to bring some light to what the weighing was on the types of methodology they applied to come to the final result, different from the first results.

 's picture

I dont remember?

Maybe these officials should have set aside some funds to find out why so many people in the CDC offices are suffering from Amnesia or what caused so many people, except Sharon Leahy-lind, to suffer from a lapse of memory. I have never heard so many officials admit in public testimony and respond to the questions by stating "I don't remenber", I don't recall", I'm not sure","I don't know".

This is just one example of the caliber of the people we have working in Augusta and leaves little doubt why we are ranked so low in all catagories.

The other troubling fact is there is no one currently running for Governor who will add any character to the Governership to prevent any further corruption.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Have to say, how would anyone know...as

"no one currently running for Governor who will add any character to the Governership to prevent any further corruption."
_______
That is speculation as to what will be done from here on end. I will say this, that with so many visible bumps in the road on this caper that there will be a better way to prevent anything like this to happen ,AS long as checks and balances and TRAINING are set up going forward. The other issue remains if state employees are relying on BlackBerry texting to skirt by the FOIA approach, well those types of loop hole needs to be plugged, plus newer BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) equipment and backups need to be enforced by the Legislature via the IT Dept.. BlackBerrys have reached a point of obsolete to the newer smartphones and that is a bit of foresight that needs to be addressed and observed going forward as well.

AL PELLETIER's picture

47 years ago

The USS Pueblo was boarded and hijacked by the North Koreans. I was in the Navy working in the War Room for the 7th fleet admiral and have a better memory of what happened then these 5 have of an incident that happened last year. Incredible!
Hell of a way to run an administration. Why is LePage so quiet, given the way he likes to run his mouth? Hum?

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

LePage like the coward that he was during Nam

he is cowering in the dark corner, staying out of the light, with three rolls of duct tape nearby....

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

There is more

meat to stuff this pie

CAROLYN LIBBEY's picture

All fall down.

You'd better believe it! Now Mary Mahew has been named as being involved so that includes her boss Emperor Lepage. This is definitely not over and it will resemble a game of dominoes.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

AGREED

It was she that wanted this buried and it went haywire. The excuses of timing for destruction seem to not match the timelines now destroy any evidence since we they reached the goal of awarding how they wanted it to work...Andy has those or I should say handed over those burned copies on CD like a good employee would do, since he knows that the destruction was not sitting well with him or Leahy and the question becomes WHY?

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