A recent Sun Journal editorial (Jan. 21) questioning MaineHousing’s response to a Freedom of Access Act request from the Maine Heritage Policy Center misrepresented the facts.
MaineHousing has a checkbook register for the last decade, and our computer system does keep records by date, vendor and amount. But there is more to this process than just handing over the check register.
MaineHousing is a $1.6 billion financial institution that uses numerous software applications to process its transactions. Most importantly, we are required by law to protect the identities of those we serve.
Part of the MHPC request was for eight pieces of information about every financial transaction made during a 13-year period. To meet that request, we needed to review hundreds of thousands of transactions to black out (redact) our clients’ personal information to comply with the identity law.
In a meeting with the MHPC, we informed them that we could provide the details of their request in two separate files. Consistent with best practices and transparency, we would provide a vendor list with the address information they requested and then, later, provide the check register once the redaction process was complete.
The MHPC said that was acceptable and we received a check on Nov. 28 to cover the $10-per-hour charge allowable under FOAA. The actual cost is $28 per hour. MaineHousing staff started its work and the vendor list was given on Dec. 12.
What wasn’t acceptable to us was what happened next, and was reported by Maine media as MaineHousing being non-compliant with the FOAA. The MHPC knew the detailed check register list was in progress, yet publicly complained that we were stalling when it released its inflammatory review of our vendor list, which included unfair speculation and innuendo about the transactions.
If MHPC was interested in the facts, it could have asked for more information on the vendors it selected to emphasize, and we would have provided it. Our expenditures support MaineHousing’s mission and its business operations are not funded by state money.
To provide this information in a short period of time, as well as attend to the needs of our clients, is a credit to the dedication of MaineHousing’s staff.
MaineHousing is committed to transparency and open government. We respect the public’s right to know and we obey the Freedom of Access law.
Some speculate that the law has become a political tool; others say that is the price we have to pay for open government. While that debate continues, we are doing our best to respond in a timely manner to this and seven other requests while at the same time continuing to assist the 90,000 Maine people we serve every year.
Dale McCormick is director of MaineHousing.