Jim Simones: There are serious problems at MSHA

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State Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, has been in the news a lot lately, defending problems at the Maine State Housing Authority. Sen. Craven is defending a quasi-state agency, partially funded by taxpayer dollars, that is apparently plagued with problems and questionable judgment, an agency that is in dire need of a thorough state review.

Contrary to what Sen. Craven believes, the MSHA, headed by Dale McCormick, who was appointed to the position by Gov. John Baldacci, may not be properly fulfilling its mission to provide safe and affordable housing for Maine people and families who cannot afford it.

The Maine Wire and several other news organizations, including the Sun Journal, have recently reported that the MSHA’s vendor list includes magicians, DJs, massages, activist political organizations and hundreds of luxury hotel stays by MSHA staff.

Again, for a taxpayer-funded organization, these expenditures are outrageous. While dollar amounts have not been provided yet by MSHA, just one penny of taxpayer money spent on such unnecessary frivolities, totally outside the scope of MSHA’s mission, calls into question the judgment of the agency and its leaders.

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Sen. Craven, however, seems to be in denial that there are troubling issues at MSHA. In a recent Maine Public Broadcasting Network interview, Craven said of MSHA spending money on massages, “… when I asked about it, they said it was somebody who was invited into a conference, that they were having to do neck massages, and I thought, well, a lot of companies do that.”

I beg to differ.

MSHA is partially funded by taxpayer dollars. It is not a private company and it should not be in the business of spending taxpayer dollars on extravagances such as massages.

Instead of encouraging a review into questionable spending at MSHA, Sen. Craven wants Maine citizens to believe this is a “witch hunt,” and recently said in a Sun Journal article referring to Gov. Paul LePage’s and Maine State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s concerns about MSHA, “In my personal opinion, the governor, as well as the treasurer, wants to undermine Dale McCormick because she’s a woman, as well as a Democrat. I believe they’re going to try to smear her in any way they can, whether they can prove it or not.”

It is not only troubling that spending is plaguing MSHA at the moment, but part of its mission, which Sen. Craven calls “to make housing affordable — and safe” in her guest column (Sun Journal, Dec. 9), is in question, too. Recent problems at a multi-family house in Norway were appalling and far from safe for tenants of the building. However, an MSHA/Avesta housing inspector did not report the problems and left the tenants living in squalor; in some instances, with sewage coming into their sinks.

It is high time that Sen. Craven and other members of the Maine State Legislature get their heads out of the sand and recognize there are serious problems at the Maine State Housing Authority. MSHA and its director are apparently accountable to no one and have proven that they are plagued with spending problems and bad judgment.

Let’s allow good judgment to prevail and begin a thorough review of this troubled agency.

Jim Simones is chairman of the Greene Republican Town Committee.

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