The following is wrap up of more than six hours of testimony from CDC officials before the Government Oversight Committe’s probe into document shredding at the agency.

A complete story and video will be filed soon.

UPDATED 3:08 PM: After the questioning, all the subpeonaed witnesses were given a chance to make comments.

Andrew Finch, without his lawyer, acknowledged he may have responsibility for problems in process. But he hoped that this process didn’t diminish  the importance of HMPs.

Sheila Pinette wanted to reassure the public that the CDC could be trusted.

There was another question for Christine Zukas about the processes used RFPs and HMPs. She said there were similarities when it came to transparency.

UPDATED 2:18 PM: CDC Deputy Director Christine Zukas says the decision process at the CDC is a collaborative process. Many people help make decisions. But she says she was not involved in the scoring of HMPs.

When asked about the scoring of HMPs,  “I was not intimately involved. I didn’t really understand it,” she said.

“There was concern about Bangor not being the lead,” Zukas said. She said the concern came from Andrew Finch and Sharon Leahy-Lind.

Zukas said the practice was to keep the final version of documents. She said she saw confusion over the different versions of documents so she ordered the previous versions destroyed.

Zukas said she “directed” Leahy-Lind” to get rid of the working documents. But she denies it was an order.

Zukas said she did get rid of a document that showed an earlier ranking that did not have the Bangor HMP as a lead agency. “I either put it in the shredder or I put it in my recycle bin,” Zukas said.

Zukas denies she ever was physical with Leahy-Lind or anyone else at CDC.

UPDATED 1:39 PM: CDC director Sheila Pinette says she was directed by DHHS head Mary Mayhew to come up with a way to deal with funding cuts.

Pinette said there wasn’t time to use the RFP process to distribute fewer funds.

The CDC didn’t want an equal distribution that would leave each HMP with only $60,000. The eight lead agencies would subcontract to other HMPs and save money through collaboration.

She denied directing anyone to make sure Bangor’s HMP was the lead agency for the region. Pinette said she didn’t have a role in making Bangor a lead agency.

Pinette says she didn’t realize the infrastructure criteria was subjective. And she denies that the CDC specifically selected to be a lead agency.

She did have a document that showed the Bangor HMP was not the lead at first. Zukas asked her for the document back, “I think Chris just filed it away.”

Pinette said that Zukas told her “We shouldn’t have these floating around. It’s not the final version.”

Also, she said Christine Zukas told her July 3, 2012, that she ordered documents destroyed. Pinette said she found out after that documents other than final versions were ordered destroyed. Sharon Leahy-Lind called her July 18, 2012, to tell her about the order to destroy documents.

Pinette says it is her understanding that no documents were actually destroyed.

UPDATED 1:22 PM: Office of Minority Health and Health Equity Director Lisa Sockabasin testified  she knows little about and remembers little about Healthy Maine Partnership meetings and discussions because HMPs were not her responsibility. She also said she was never told to destroy documents.

Sockabasin denied there was “an air of secrecy.” She said she did not use Blackberry instant messaging to communicate. When asked if she was instructed to avoid emails to skirt FOAA, she responded “Absolutely not.”

Sockabasin said Sharon Leahy-Lind was very nervous that Bangor would not be getting the lead contract for the area.

Sockabasin said she does recall Leahy-Lind telling her that she was told to “shred” documents. But Sockabasin understood the issue was “version control.”

When it came to discussing the HMPs, “Our intention was that every HMP would be covered” even though there would be lead agencies, said Sockabasin.

Sen. Roger Katz recused himself from the questioning.

UPDATED 12:49 PM: Sharon Leahy-Lind testified she was involved in developing criteria to rank Healthy Maine Partnerships. She was not aware of any weighting of criteria.

But Leahy-Lind said she was surprised to see that Bangor’s HMP was the lead agency for the Penquis region. When she asked why, she said CDC Director Sheila Pinette told her it was political. “Shawn Yardley (director of Bangor’s Department of Health and Community Services) has been a wonderful partner,” was the answer she was given.

“It’s become clear to me there’s been a manipulations of data… with respect to outcome of leads,” Leahy-Lind testified.

Leahy Lind said the head of an HMP was responsible for ensuring that no HMPs were cut through the Legislature. “She’ll pay for that,” is what Leahy-Lind said was what Zukas told her. That HMP was not named lead in the region.

Leahy-Lind said later she was told by Christine Zukas to destroy any HMP working documents and to tell Andrew Finch to destroy his documents. “I was told to shred all documentation related to the HMPs. All of my files.” She said she refused.

In another encounter, Leahy-Lind said Zukas grabbed her by the arm and demanded to destroy the documents.

In a later meeting, Leahy-Lind says Zukas told her not to communicate any more by email. She was to use instant messaging on her Blackberry because those messages were not subject to FOAA.

“I wish that I had packed my bags that very day and left that organization,” Leahy-Lind said.

UPDATED 11:44 AM: Senior Program Manager Andrew Finch testified that Christine Zukas asked him to “purge my files for all the working documents.”

He took that as a request and an instruction. He was concerned because that had never happened before. Said he told Wigand about it because she was his supervisor and he wanted to her to know that he hadn’t complied. 

Also said he weighted the scores in an effort to create a better statistical difference between HMPs. Said didn’t change the winner but later acknowledged that it did appear to change the winner for the Bangor region.

Finch says the purging of documents was meant to prevent confusion. But this was a first for him. “I have never been instructed to do that (destroy documents) in my 18 years as an employee”

Finch testified that he burned the working documents to a disk. That disk was given to OPEGA.

UPDATED 10:38 AM: CDC Division Director Deborah Wigand testified that CDC workers were asked to destroy documents in response to questioning. 

In response to questions from committee members, she said that Senior Program Manager Andrew Finch told her that he was asked to destroy documents and was uncomfortable with that.

She said she told Finch to do what he was comfortable doing.

Wigand repeatedly denied remembering that she was asked to destroy documents. She also denied asking anyone to destroy documents.

Wigand also said she didn’t think destroying the documents was an attempt at concealment but “version control.”

Wiegand testified that Deputy Director Christine Zukas gave the order to destroy documents.

AUGUSTA — The Maine Center for Disease Control officials at the heart of a document-shredding probe will answer questions in open session.

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee voted Friday 7-3, to keep the questioning in open session.

The committee had subpoenaed 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 to appear before it and answer questions under oath after the five officials had declined an earlier invitation.

The GOC is the only legislative committee that can subpoena witnesses. If CDC officials had refused to appear, the committee could have gone the Superior Court to compel them to obey.

Sharon Leahy-Lind, the former CDC division director whose document-shredding allegations led to the investigation, also was subpoenaed to appear Friday. She was the only one who did not ask to testify behind closed doors.

The allegations of document destruction came to light last spring when Leahy-Lind, then-director for the CDC’s Division of Local Public Health, filed a complaint of harassment with the Maine Human Rights Commission. She has since filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit.

She has said her bosses at the CDC told her to shred public documents related to the grant funding for the state’s Health Maine Partnership program. When she refused, she said, she faced harassment and retaliation. She has since left her job at the CDC.

A CDC office manager has echoed Leahy-Lind’s allegations and is seeking to be added as a plaintiff to her suit.

At the GOC’s behest, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability investigated the CDC over several months. Its December report noted a host of problems, including supervisors who ordered the destruction of public documents, workers who created documents specifically to fulfill a Sun Journal Freedom of Access Act request, funding criteria that was changed during the selection process, Healthy Maine Partnerships funding scores that were changed just before the final selection, a tribal Healthy Maine Partnerships contract that the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability couldn’t discern who was responsible for developing, reviewing or approving, and a critical Healthy Maine Partnerships scoring sheet that has vanished.

Money, the investigation found, may have gone where it shouldn’t have.

Lawyers from the Maine Attorney General’s Office had been defending CDC Director Sheila Pinette and the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, in Leahy-Lind’s suit. The AG’s office withdrew that representation in January citing “a recent and unexpected development.”

The state has since hired private lawyers for DHHS and Pinette. The new lawyers for DHHS asked the GOC to suspend its document-shredding probe or, at least, stop seeking testimony from any CDC employee who is party to or may be called as a witness in the lawsuit.

The GOC refused.

The committee hopes to determine why public records were ordered destroyed and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.

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Letter to Government Oversight Committee


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