patronage

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University chancellor given authority over top appointments, raises

BANGOR — The University of Maine system trustees on Monday approved policy changes designed to give the chancellor greater authority over appointments, promotions and pay raises. The changes come after press reports about the use of loopholes in the hiring process to give top level jobs to former Baldacci administration officials and about nearly $1 million in discretionary pay raises to system employees. Most of those appointments and pay raises were approved by presidents and top executives at some of the System’s seven campuses. The rules adopted Monday, the result of a study of personnel policies ordered by the new chancellor, James Page, effectively takes final authority over hiring and raises of the System’s top managers away from the presidents and puts it in Page’s hands.All of the controversial pay raises and hiring came under Page’s predecessors. Page said that no management-level “position will be opened or filled without the authority of the chancellor. Continue Reading →

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University System a haven for former top state staffers

Hiring records at the University of Maine System show loopholes, waivers and personal and political connections played a significant role in the appointment of seven state officials into some of the highest paying non-teaching jobs in the system. Six of the seven worked for the same state agency during the administration of former Gov. John Baldacci and the seventh was a member of the System Board of Trustees during that period. The current and immediately past chairs of the board both said that while they believe there was no improper influence in most of the hires, they also said a review of the process is warranted. And the new chancellor of the System, James Page, said he will add the hiring issue to a review he is doing about recent questions involving System pay raises. “I take the allegations and concerns very seriously, but I’m not prepared to say what the strengths of those allegations and concerns are,” Page said. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers move to take politics out of grant awards

AUGUSTA — The controversy over a $3 million energy grant that went to a politically-connected group may lead to a new law to subject state and federal grants to a competitive process. On Tuesday, the legislature’s government oversight committee voted unanimously to begin the process of writing legislation that would make it hard to award grants and contracts to unqualified  applicants, citing as an example the money awarded to the Maine Green Energy Alliance by the agency that runs the state energy programs.

“I just find it hard to believe that we don’t have anything in place in this state” that prevents political meddling or favoritism in the awarding of grants, said Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, co-chairman of the committee. “Am I the only one that’s amazed by that fact? It just boggles my mind.”

The suggested legislative changes grew out of an audit of the Alliance by the legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) that found the agency was not capable of handling the $3 million Stimulus grant. The Alliance folded in January amid news reports that it had signed up only 50 of a projected 1,000 homes for energy efficiency upgrades. Continue Reading →

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AG taking former state employee Cook to court over $4000 travel debt

AUGUSTA — The state is tired of waiting for a former state official to voluntarily pay the $4,314 he has owed for more than two years for bills he ran up on a state credit card. The state attorney general’s office is going to take Jimmy Cook, who got his state job with the help of Gov. John Baldacci, to small claims court. William Laubenstein, chief of the AG’s government division, said, “Obviously, we’d like to recover the outstanding debt in full,” but if the state wins the case and Cook still does not pay the debt, he said the state could go after Cook’s assets. The case was referred to the AG’ s office by state controller Terry Brann after letters written to Cook failed to get him to pay the debt. “My recollection,” Brann said, “is that this is the first time we have contacted the AG regarding an outstanding travel card liability.”

Cook, a Bangor native, left the state Department of Economic and Community Development in the fall of 2008, where he worked part of the time on the tourism division. Continue Reading →

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Baldacci labor friend stuck state with $5000 travel tab

By John Christie and Naomi Schalit
Senior Reporters
© Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

AUGUSTA — James “Jimmy” Cook, the former UPS truck driver and Teamster organizer with friends in high places at the Statehouse, got more than well-paying jobs from his political contacts. He also was able to walk away from his job in the state Department of Economic and Community Development with more than $5000 of taxpayer money. That’s the amount he owed the state for covering his credit card bills for state-authorized trips to places such as  Long Beach, Calif. and New York City. • COOK WAS A RICHARDSON VOLUNTEER: Read sidebar story
• Read last week’s story on Richardson. Continue Reading →

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Teamster organizer found role in candidate Richardson’s state agency

By JOHN CHRISTIE
Senior Reporter

AUGUSTA — John Richardson’s first day on the job as commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community development was Jan. 22, 2007. It was also the first day on the job for the department’s new acting project officer for business development:  James “Jimmy” Cook. They have a lot in common. Both are Democrats. Continue Reading →

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