LEWISTON — The state Board of Corrections has issued an “urgent” plea to Gov. Paul LePage to either fill two empty seats on its board or watch its work grind to a halt.

“We need the appointments,” Chairman Joel Merry said. “Without them, I don’t see the impact as anything but devastating.”

The board serves as the leadership for Maine’s network of 15 county jails and is the funnel through which millions of dollars in state funding flows to the jails and holding facilities.

In the spring, the Maine Legislature overturned a LePage veto to restructure the board, giving it more authority and shrinking it from nine members to five.

Two of the seats were left for LePage to fill.

The new rule-making statute governing the board is vague about whether a quorum can even exist without at least four of the five members. The Maine Attorney General’s Office has advised the board to put off nonessential decisions until the appointments are made.

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The hold has lasted several months and budgets loom.

In a letter to LePage, the board’s executive director, Ryan Thornell, asked for immediate appointments.

“It would be unfortunate for the correctional system and costly to the taxpayers of Maine if an aggrieved county challenged the board’s decisions in court on the basis of a lack of quorum, and it would be further damaging to the system and Maine’s taxpayers if such a challenge was successful,” Thornell wrote.

“Thankfully, this risk can be easily and quickly avoided by filling the remaining two vacancies,” he wrote. “All that is required is for you to appoint them.”

The appointments would need neither vetting nor confirmation by the Legislature, Thornell said.

Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, declined to comment on the appointments.

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However, Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, one of the framers of the board, said the appointments would need legislative review, but there is time. He said the appointments are only two of hundreds that will likely be made after the holidays.

He asked Merry and the board to be patient.

“They’re very, very nervous and there’s no way to tell them they don’t need to be,” Gerzofsky said. “I believe the governor is taking this really seriously.”

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