Political Pulse: Critics of MaineHousing set sights on nonprofits

Nuggets from the notebook while watching the twists and turns of the MaineHousing drama ...

The tit-for-tat battle at MaineHousing appears to be heading in a new direction. It just may lead to the crux of the debate.

The media was recently summoned to MaineHousing's latest board meeting to witness Executive Director Dale McCormick's grilling by state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and newly appointed board chairman Peter Anastos.

It was apparent from that meeting and subsequent interviews that Poliquin and Anastos would like to see McCormick removed from MaineHousing. Both have accused her of green-lighting expensive housing projects while thousands of would-be tenants sit on a waiting list. In doing so, Poliquin and Anastos had mostly focused on the price per unit of recent housing projects, which McCormick and others said was misleading.

The duo have since developed a new line of criticism: That certain nonprofit developers are getting preferential treatment in the MaineHousing bidding process.

The shift appeared last week as Poliquin, Anastos and McCormick took the full debate to WGAN 560. During a contentious segment with Democratic co-host Ethan Strimling, Anastos said that "a few nonprofit developers are getting the bulk of the jobs and that a lot of them used to work at (MSHA)."

Anastos did not elaborate, but it's clear that he had at least one developer in mind.

Avesta Housing, a nonprofit housing developer in Portland, has done a host of MaineHousing projects. The firm is currently headed by Dana Totman, who was the deputy director of MaineHousing between 1994 and 2000.

Shortly after the WGAN segment Lance Dutson, the executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group that's been probing MaineHousing activities, made a direct reference to Totman and Avesta. Dutson tweeted information from Avesta's latest Form 990, the Internal Revenue Service's financial disclosure statement that showed Avesta had $3.6 million in net assets in 2009.

From Dutson's tweet, "6,500 people wait for affordable housing, but Avesta has $3 mil in net assets thx to taxpayers, pays boss 130k. Justify that."

Dutson added that "taxpayer money should not be squandered on no-bid contracts that make people wealthy."

The ensuing Twitter debate continued with progressives questioning Dutson over government subsidies for defense contractors and so on. While that policy discussion is evergreen, it's a new layer to the unfolding MaineHousing saga.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Anastos' assertion about certain nonprofits bears fruit.

The claim has been privately repeated by members of the development community, but so far none of the firms interviewed by the Sun Journal will take their grievances public.

Strimling asked Anastos about their absence from the debate on WGAN. Anastos said the companies were afraid of retribution and losing out on future MaineHousing bids.

Perhaps they'll have a change of heart. After all, critics of MaineHousing are essentially saying that MaineHousing is already freezing out private firms.  Additionally, with a new mandate from the board members appointed by Gov. Paul LePage, changes to the bidding qualification process already underway and an embattled McCormick, it would seem that the jilted private firms would be less vulnerable to retribution.

Delegation goes populist

A recent "60 Minutes" segment about congressional insider trading generated instant public outrage at a time when the perception of Congress is, well, pretty bad.

Or something worse than pretty bad.

So it's probably no surprise how lawmakers responded to the segment, which centered on a bill that would ban insider trading by Congress members. Prior to the '60 Minutes' piece, the so-called STOCK Act in the House of Representatives had just a handful of co-sponsors and appeared to be heading to the legislative scrap heap along with a similar bill introduced several years ago.

But since the report the list of co-sponsors has ballooned to 99, including Maine Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, who both signed on Nov. 17 (the story aired Nov. 13).

Suddenly the legislation has new life.

Additionally, Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., has since introduced a corresponding bill in the U.S. Senate. The measure is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has signed on as a co-sponsor to Brown's bill. Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will oversee hearings on the Senate proposal.

Legislature ramping up

It should be a busy few weeks in Augusta as lawmakers prepare for next year's abbreviated legislative session.

There are couple hearings of interest this week.

On Tuesday the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hold a hearing that could determine the fate of the Maine Clean Elections Act, the public campaign finance system that lawmakers are trying to conform with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m.

On Wednesday the Maine Ethics Commission will meet to decide whether it will endorse a staff recommendation to have the Attorney General investigate state Rep. David R. Burns, R-Alfred, for allegedly misusing MCEA funds and falsifying documents during a recent audit.

During the coming weeks the Legislature's Appropriations Committee will begin reviewing Gov. Paul LePage's supplemental budget.

smistler@sunjournal.com

This story has been corrected to note that Collins is co-sponsoring Brown's insider trading bill.

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Comments

DONALD FERLAND's picture

It seems to me that this is

It seems to me that this is again an example of let's play the blame game instead of working as one to find a solution to the problems. Are there problems with the system? Yes. Are there problems in how programs in this state are run? Yes. Are there solutions to these problems? Probably but not until we all stop blaming others and working together. Maybe it's time to get rid of the party system in this state and change the rules to say that if you do not do your job without using the blame game then you will be removed from that job/office without cause. It seems that politicians are focusing on programs that help the poor, the disabled, the people who rely on mental health services and those that need help for whatever the reason. I say that before any politician is allowed to run for office then that person needs to walk in the shoes of the people in the above categories. Let's see if that changes their tune some. I would love to see someone in politics live on the $674 that a disabled person gets each month, including paying bills in full, paying for medications, paying for necessities, paying for food and not getting help when they need it because there are no funds for the programs. Maybe there is mismanagement of money in the programs but the solution will NOT be found blaming someone else. The solution will only be found when we work together as a team.

Carl Kimball's picture

Maine Housing

I can't really say what has been said in this article is true or not, but if it is shown to be so, then changes need to be done. If it takes removing people or limiting some companies from bidding, then so be it. But to hear that someone is playing the system and using the low income people is no surprise to me. This kind of stuff goes on daily. People are only human and no matter their title in life or what uniform they wear, there are a few who will play the game to see if they can get away with it no matter who they step on to do so. We teach our kids not to lie, always share and above all be honest. But weak adults can't pratice what they teach, because of greed and temptation, the chance to get rich quick. Hopefully the truth will be found and hopefully the right moves will be taken. We have too many people on a waiting list for affordable housing; elderly, handicap and real people with low income, (yes i know, a few who will try playing the system, but one day we will have better screening to prevent this). Then you have the homeless and veterans. Jobs are few and we have so many who are able, but we the people will find an answer to whatever it is that our elected officals have screwed up.

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