AUBURN — The newly elected mayor of Auburn is calling out the LePage administration for excluding him and other city officials from Thursday's job creation forum at Central Maine Community College.
Jonathan LaBonte, elected Nov. 8, originally believed that LePage shut him out of the forum because LaBonte, a Republican, last year publicly supported independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.
LaBonte wrote in an email to the Sun Journal, "Since my support for Mr. Cutler in the last election, the Republican leadership has not been willing to communicate with me at all. In fact, even as mayor-elect of Auburn, I've been refused a seat at the job creation forum this Thursday in my own city."
The administration, however, said LaBonte's exclusion had nothing to do with politics.
"These workshops are not about Democrats, Republicans or independents," said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett. "It is about inviting job creators to have a seat at the table so they can help this administration understand what it can do to improve the business climate in our state."
LaBonte said Wednesday that he supports the governor's job-creation initiative and understands that LePage may want a captive audience with business owners.
However, LaBonte said, if local regulations are hindering job creation, city officials should know about it.
"Local elected officials will be needed to drive local changes," he said.
LaBonte also highlighted comments the governor made during a jobs forum in Bangor in which LePage said he planned to submit legislation that would allow the state to reduce municipal revenue-sharing if a community's regulations were stricter than the state's.
"If you will not cooperate with the state, (if you are) stricter on regulations, then you lose revenue-sharing," LePage told the Bangor Daily News last month.
On Wednesday, LaBonte said that initiative — yet to appear in the form of legislation — was all the more reason that some city officials should be invited to Thursday's forum.
"Shouldn't the local officials, who need to look at how we might change our regulations, be at the table?" LaBonte said.
He added, "This is an opportunity to identify who is responsible for cleaning up which regulations. If it's a local ordinance, the governor can't change that; only we can. How else will we get that information directly?"
LaBonte acknowledged that the administration has invited Auburn officials to meet sometime after the forum. However, he learned Wednesday that several city officials had been told they were off the forum invitation list after originally being told by the administration that they were welcome.
"Augusta is coming to see what challenges local businesses have to creating jobs and there will be no Auburn government representation," LaBonte said.
Peter Rogers, LePage's communications director, said a few legislators have attended the forums. However, Rogers said, the lawmakers were allowed either because of "their status as a business owner or they represented a major employer in the area."
That appears to be the case for Auburn's current mayor, Dick Gleason, who owns Gleason Media Services and is on the list to attend Thursday's event. LaBonte will be sworn in as Auburn's mayor Dec. 21.
The administration's stance on making the forums for the private sector has been consistent, although not wholly embraced by those he has excluded. LePage came under fire last month from the Maine Association of Nonprofits, which complained that the administration shut out a sector that employs 82,000 people in Maine.
Chip Morrison, president of the Greater Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce, said close to 100 attendees will be at Kirk Hall Gymnasium at CMCC on Thursday. The event begins at 8:15 a.m.