By Steve Mistler, Staff Writer
AUGUSTA — Outgoing Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley moved one step closer to his new post with the state Board of Education on Wednesday.
Members of the Legislature’s Education Committee approved Beardsley’s nomination, 6-4, during a relatively brisk confirmation hearing.
Lawmakers asked a handful of questions about Beardsley’s views on public education, charter schools and school choice.
The state Board of Education advises the commissioner of education on school-related policies.
Only one panelist, Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, broached the most anticipated topic: Beardsley’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations against the Rev. Bob Carlson, a former chaplain at Husson University where Beardsley was president for 22 years.
Beardsley handled Alfond’s inquiry in the same manner he has since an individual told the Maine State Police that the former college president knew as early as 2005 that Carlson was “not who he appeared to be” and that students had told Beardsley about abuse.
Beardsley reiterated to lawmakers on Wednesday that he had no knowledge of any illegal activity by Carlson.
The well-known reverend committed suicide Nov. 13 after learning that Maine State Police were investigating allegations that he sexually abused several children over 40 years.
Beardsley, who was president during Carlson’s nine years at Husson, told the Education Committee that the situation was tragic, but “in my view I dealt with everything appropriately.”
All four of the lawmakers who opposed Beardsley’s appointment to a term on the education board were Democrats. Rep. Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston, said that his opposition was based on unanswered questions about the Carlson case, not Beardsley’s qualifications as an educator.
Wagner said that as long as there is any uncertainty about the case, he could not support Beardsley.
During questioning, Alfond asked Beardsley whether he considered himself a “mandated reporter,” a reference to a law designed to compel people to report suspected abuse.
Beardsley said he was aware that there were legal protocols when abuse is suspected and that he would have followed them, had he had any knowledge of illegal activity by Carlson.
Questions have surrounded Beardsley’s handling of the Carlson situation ever since the outgoing Department of Conservation commissioner was named in a report published by the Maine State Police. In the 104-page report, Beardsley told investigators that he received two phone calls, one in 2005 and another in 2006, that suggested that Carlson had participated in a homosexual relationship.
Beardsley told police that he confronted Carlson after the second caller threatened to make the relationship public. Beardsley said in August that he told Carlson that he shouldn’t be on campus and that the minister immediately resigned.
Beardsley later acknowledged that he didn’t totally ban Carlson from campus when confronted with photographic evidence that Carlson continued to attend activities at Husson.
Gov. Paul LePage has expressed “full confidence” in Beardsley. On Wednesday, only Alfond and Wagner raised questions about the Carlson case. Three people testified in support of his nomination, and none of them mentioned the issue.
Beardsley said that despite his current position as a subordinate to LePage, he would remain an independent voice on the education board.
He said he was a supporter of public education.
Beardsley, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, has transitioned out of the conservation post since the agency merged with the Department of Agriculture on Aug. 30.
The Education Committee unanimously approved two other LePage nominations to the education board: Peter Geiger of Lewiston and Ande Smith of North Yarmouth.
The nine-member education board is an advisory panel that approves school construction projects and established teacher certification standards. Three members also serve on the Charter School Commission, a panel that certifies charter and magnet schools.
The education board appointments now must clear a vote in the Senate.