Five Maine Center for Disease Control officials subpoenaed to appear Friday before a legislative committee in a document-shredding probe have asked to be questioned behind closed doors.

The Government Oversight Committee will vote on that request during the meeting Friday, then go into executive session if it passes. By state law, the request must be honored unless a majority of the committee votes to keep the questioning open.

If there is a tie — the 12-member committee is made up of six Democrats and six Republicans — the director of the committee’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability said she believes the committee would have to honor the request and move the meeting to executive session.

Government Oversight is the only legislative committee that can subpoena witnesses to appear before it. It has exercised that right only once before: during its 2011 investigation of questionable spending at the Maine Turnpike Authority. No witness asked for an executive session then. 

The five officials subpoenaed to appear before the committee are CDC Director Sheila Pinette, Deputy Director Christine Zukas, Office of Minority Health and Health Equity Director Lisa Sockabasin, Division Director Deborah Wigand and Senior Program Manager Andrew Finch. In February, all declined the committee’s invitation to appear. That led to the subpoenas.

Sharon Leahy-Lind, the former CDC official who first raised allegations of document-shredding, has also been subpoenaed to appear Friday. She has not asked that her questioning be done behind closed doors.

The committee’s Democratic co-chairs disagreed Tuesday about which might be best for their investigation: executive session or open session.

State Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, said he initially wanted to keep the meeting open, but now he’s not sure.

“My first reaction was no, it has to be all open and above board and in front of everybody,” he said. “But as my thinking on it has evolved, I think we might get more and better information if we are in executive session and they can speak privately and, perhaps, more candidly. I don’t know.”

However, state Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, was adamant that the meeting should remain open. 

“I can’t stress enough, from my perspective, how much this entire investigation is about transparency, accountability and faith in government,” she said. “Enough has been done behind closed doors (to prompt) this investigation and I think it’s time for it to be out in the open.”

State Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the committee’s ranking Republican senator, said he did not know how he was going to vote, but he would have to be convinced that an executive session would be best.  

“I think that there’s a prejudice to doing our work, doing the public’s business, in public,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to hear an awfully compelling argument why that shouldn’t happen here.”

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