AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s administration underwent a major overhaul Wednesday as one cabinet member resigned and another was reassigned. 

Both moves came amid more controversy for the governor, whose first four months in office have been marked by turmoil.

Department of Environmental Protection Chief Darryl Brown, a Livermore Falls resident, stepped down after Attorney General William Schneider ruled that Brown would have to reveal income from his business interests or violate the conflict provision in the federal Clean Water Act.

LePage announced that Brown will be reassigned to lead a reorganization of the State Planning Office. An environmental group had petitioned the EPA to look into Brown’s situation.

More sudden was the resignation of Philip Congdon, chief of the Department of Economic and Community Development, which appeared to have caught the LePage team off guard.

The administration gave no explanation for Congdon’s departure. A spokeswoman declined to elaborate, saying only that it was a “personnel matter.”

However, there was widespread speculation that the outgoing DECD chief was forced out because of offensive comments he made during a tour of Aroostook County earlier this month.

Travis Kennedy, the chief of staff of the House Democrats, said the comments prompted Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, to write LePage and urge him to take action against Congdon.

Martin told MPBN he sent the letter to LePage. While he declined to repeat the comments, he said some of the remarks involved Congdon’s opinions about race, affirmative action in the education system and poverty in Aroostook County.

Tim Crowley, the president of the Northern Maine Community College, attended one of the events. He also declined to repeat Congdon’s remarks.

“There were some things that transpired that raised some concerns and were put into a letter,” said Crowley, who referred all additional questions to the governor’s office.

The administration declined to comment or to produce Martin’s letter.

Congdon, a Bristol resident, could not be reached for comment. Congdon is a retired engineer for Texas Instruments and former member of the Maine Constitutionalists, a tea party organization.

During confirmation hearings, Democrats raised questions about Congdon’s experience level.

Experience wasn’t the issue for Brown, but his transformation from developer to head of one of the state’s regulatory agencies was.

Administration officials indicated that Brown’s resignation was anticipated given ongoing questions about potential conflicts between his role as the state’s chief environmental regulator and ties to his former company, Main-Line Development, a Livermore Falls development company that has sought permits from the DEP.

Although Brown had left the firm to head the DEP, Democrats and environmental organizations questioned whether he could sufficiently divorce his business interests from his state duties.

Democrats have raised issues about Brown’s potential conflict since his nomination by the governor. Last month they asked the Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on the matter after the LePage administration declined to do so. 

Brown’s reassignment immediately follows a ruling by the Attorney General William Schneider that Brown may be unqualified to remain head of the DEP.

In a letter dated April 27, Schneider writes, “In the absence of new information, it appears you are unqualified to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection under Maine law.”

Brown said Wednesday that he knew there “was an issue,” however he wasn’t convinced it “had legs.”

Brown also said he was blindsided by Schneider’s ruling.

“That surprised me,” he said. “At that point I knew that a change had to be made.”

Brown acknowledged that he was likely stepping into a temporary position at the State Planning Office, which LePage has vowed to downsize and possibly eliminate.

Brown said he was unsure if he would return to Main-Land, which he put up for sale when he took the DEP post. He said one of the reasons he resigned from the DEP post was because the company’s financial data would be subject to Freedom of Access laws through the EPA investigation.

Brown said the disclosure could jeopardize the sale of Main-Land.

According to a release issued by the AG’s office, Brown’s personal attorney, Clint Boothby, wrote to both the Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on April 22 following Boothby’s private review of documentation relating to Brown’s income during the preceding two years.

“Boothby’s letter expresses concern about potential damage to Main-land Development’s business interests from the public disclosure of its client list and revenue information, and questions whether such records would become part of the public domain if submitted to the Attorney General’s Office for its review.”

Schneider also advised that if Brown has a conflict, he would be precluded from serving as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection under Maine statute.

Schneider stated that “if in fact such a conflict exists, it would undermine your legal authority to act on any matter coming before you as commissioner.”

LePage was not available to speak about the matter. However, in a written statement, he said, “It is unfortunate that Maine law is so inflexible that it can be read to prevent good people from serving. This is another example of the costs of Maine going beyond federal standards. I have discussed this issue with legislative leaders and am pleased that there is support for legislation to fix this problem.”

LePage said he intends to introduce legislation on the issue to align with federal law.

But Steve Hinchman, the attorney for the Androscoggin River Alliance, the group that initiated an investigation by the EPA, said that Maine’s law already matches federal law and that changes could cause the bureaucracy the governor is seeking to eliminate.

“The governor is dead wrong, again,” he said. “Maine law is, word for word, identical to the federal conflict-of-interest standard. In fact, the reason it’s on the books here, is that states must adopt the federal conflict-of-interest standard in order to receive authority from EPA to administer federal permits.”

Hinchman said the only change LePage could make is two create “two DEPs, one to handle state permitting and one to handle federal permitting.”

“But he ought to check in with the business community first,” Hinchman said. “They seem to think that one DEP is bad enough.”

Jim Brooks, director of the Bureau of Air Quality, will become acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

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Letter From Atty Boothby for Darryl BrownLetter From AG to Darryl Brown Letter to BEP environmental chairman from LePage

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