AUGUSTA — The MaineHousing Board of Directors unanimously accepted Executive Director Dale McCormick's resignation Tuesday. The resignation will become effective March 31.
The board went into executive session Tuesday morning. Members then came out and voted unanimously on "an employment matter," but didn't make clear what that was until the public announcement of McCormick's resignation was made early in the afternoon.
In a formal statement, McCormick announced that she was leaving her post "in order to bring an end to the current rancor," and that the MSHA "board and I have concluded that it is in the best interest of the Housing Authority and the people of Maine.”
Under the terms of her separation agreement, McCormick will receive severance pay equal to one year of her most recent base salary, or $101,520. She and her dependents will receive health coverage through September 2013.
McCormick has been under scrutiny since last year, when the Maine Heritage Policy Center requested detailed information on how the agency was spending its money. The scrutiny, which McCormick characterized Tuesday as a "systematic attack that's grounded the important work of the agency almost to a halt," has intensified in recent months.
She and her agency have been the subject of frequent criticism by state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Gov. Paul LePage’s newly appointed MaineHousing board members, who have questioned the high cost of housing units handled by the agency, among other things.
McCormick was not available for comment after the meeting.
Poliquin, one of her most persistent critics, said Tuesday that McCormick's departure was for the best. The treasurer cited McCormick's "social engineering" agenda as a significant policy difference that clashed with the LePage administration and its newly appointed board members.
The ideological clash has been on full display over the last six months. Poliquin, MHPC and newly appointed board chairman Peter Anastos have frequently and publicly questioned McCormick's leadership and her fiscal stewardship of a quasi-public agency that administers millions in state and federal dollars and then funnels it to developers for affordable housing projects.
Over that time McCormick's opponents have waged a public relations war that included criticism of her green-lighting affordable housing projects that focused on costly renovations, infill development, energy efficiency and other green initiatives.
MHPC also deployed its news agency to raise myriad questions about McCormick's guidance of the agency, at times attempting to establish parallels between MaineHousing and the scandal that rocked the Maine Turnpike Authority last year.
The group has published 35 posts about MaineHousing. An image of McCormick also appears on the site's homepage.
Anastos, the MaineHousing board chairman, said Tuesday that he didn't believe McCormick was involved in a turnpike-like scandal. However, he was glad that she decided to leave. He said her policies had unnecessarily driven up the costs of affordable housing projects.
"It's obvious we were heading in different directions and we all think — I think we all think — that it was in the best interest of the state of Maine to make a change," he said.
Anastos later added that the severance deal had been in the works over the last week.
Late last year, an investigation into MaineHousing was initiated by Republicans on the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee. The investigation is still ongoing.
One of the criticisms of the agency is that the director does not answer to the governor. LePage's power to expel the director, who is the fiduciary of a bank-like agency with $1.6 billion in outstanding bonds, is statutorily limited.
To be removed, the director must commit fraud or steal. Or demonstrate fiscal malfeasance. Even then, only the board has that removal authority.
A bill submitted by Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, earlier this session would allow the quasi-governmental agency’s board of directors to fire the director without cause. The bill would not have grandfathered McCormick, who was appointed in 2005 by Gov. John Baldacci.
After McCormick's resignation was announced, Lance Dutson, chief executive officer of MHPC, issued a statement that "the resignation of Ms. McCormick is the first step toward a long-needed review of MSHA operations, and we look forward to working with the new leadership to help restore faith in the agency."
Board member Donald Gean rejected claims that McCormick stepped down because of the intense scrutiny.
"I think she could put up with that forever," Gean said. "Her resignation has been done in an effort to put the agency back together. This has taken a hell of a toll on the staff here. I think she basically sacrificed herself to basically put an end to it and let these good people get back to work."
Gean agreed with McCormick that the campaign against her was a systematic effort to remove her.
"It started the day the new board showed up," he said. "It's not that they're evil people. They have a totally different agenda and systematically they've been pushing it forward."
He added, "Now with Dale out of the way, we'll find out what their (policy) agenda is. So far it's been get rid of Dale."
Peter Merrill, the agency's communications director, has been named acting director until a new director is appointed.