A former Auburn mayor who had become a policy adviser to Gov. Paul LePage quietly resigned from the governor’s Cabinet last month, and the administration is not saying much about his departure.
Jonathan P. LaBonte stepped down from his $112,000-a-year job as director of the Office of Policy and Management on April 10. The office’s website has been taken down, and all but one of its staff members have been reassigned to other state agencies, said Julie Rabinowitz, LePage’s press secretary.
As LePage concludes his final term in the Blaine House, a growing number of managers are leaving the administration, and their departures are often made public in press releases thanking them for the service. No such announcement was made when Labonte left, but Rabinowitz said not every departure is publicized – especially for staff members who don’t have extensive contact with the public or the media.
LaBonte left the administration one month after he received a notice of claim that he may be named in a possible civil suit filed against former Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, who resigned in December amid allegations that he sexually harassed members of his department.
LaBonte declined to comment on the pending civil suit and his resignation during a telephone interview Tuesday. He said he was looking to move on in his career and was working part-time while he spent time with his family. He said he had canceled his social media accounts because after spending six years in the public eye as mayor and a LePage adviser, he was trying to return to a more private life.
The notice of claim that names LaBonte was filed under a state law that requires anyone who intends to sue a government entity to notify the government agency involved and name and notify any government employees who may be party to the suit. LaBonte was named in his individual capacity and as mayor of Auburn, a position he held following his election in 2011 until he announced in July 2017 that he would not seek another term.
A notice of claim does not mean that a suit will be filed, or that all of the people named in the notice would be sued if it were filed.
LaBonte and Gallant, as well as 15 other public officials or agencies, were named in the March 9 notice of claim filed by a Jay man and his family seeking $5 million in damages.
Michael C. Marks claims Gallant, “in his individual and representative capacities, sexually assaulted (Marks), and continues to harass, torture and to solicit the Claimant for sexual contact.” According to the notice, the alleged incidents began in 1999 and continued into March of this year.
Marks has a criminal history that includes a 2002 guilty plea to federal charges of distributing prescription painkillers.
A lawyer for Marks, Amy Fairfield of Lyman, declined to comment Tuesday on the notice of claim.
When LePage announced LaBonte’s appointment in June 2014, he heralded the then-mayor’s financial acumen.
“(LaBonte) has a deep understanding of municipal, county and state budgets, and he is not afraid to propose bold and innovative solutions that protect the taxpayer, but continue to provide services more efficiently and with less cost. We appreciate his out-of-the-box thinking, and we welcome his knowledge and his enthusiasm for moving the state forward,” LePage said in a prepared statement.
The Office of Policy and Management once had seven employees, and its function was to conduct research and prepare reports and other material to support the administration’s decision-making on a range of policy issues.
Rabinowitz said Tuesday that the office now has one employee. Others in the office have either left state government or been transferred to other departments as part of a state government reform effort LePage initiated in 2011, when the then-Republican controlled Legislature voted to dismantle the State Planning Office.
“It is down because the duties OPM performed have been almost entirely transitioned to other offices,” Rabinowitz wrote in an email to the Press Herald. The office’s only employee, Paul Leparulo, nows works from the governor’s office doing research for LePage and his staff, Rabinowitz said.
The Press Herald has requested a copy of LaBonte’s letter of resignation, but LePage’s office has yet to release it. Rabinowitz said the letter is being reviewed before it’s released because portions of it could be deemed confidential.
In addition to LaBonte and Gallant, notices of claim also were sent to the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office; the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office; the police departments in Mexico, Wilton and Rumford; Androscoggin County; the Androscoggin County Jail; the Androscoggin County Commissioners Office; Oxford County Commissioner Steven Merrill; the Oxford County clerk; the city of Auburn; the Maine State Police; the Maine Department of Corrections; the Maine Department of Probation; the Maine Office of Policy and Management; and the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
Before accepting a position in LePage’s Cabinet, LaBonte had served as the executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust and as an Androscoggin County Commissioner. He also served on the board of directors for the Maine Development Foundation.
Jonathan P. LaBonte