MPBN: Maine CDC Staffer: Mayhew Signed Off on Document Shredding

Posted: March 17, 2014 | Government Oversight Committee, News Items, Senator Cain

By AJ Higgins

Read more here

Maine Center for Disease Control staffers told members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee today that they were ordered two years ago to shred documents related to the selection of regional programs competing for $4.7 million in public health grants. And according to the center’s director and deputy director, state Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew signed off on the decision. Committee members say Mayhew may have to explain her role in the destruction of those documents. A.J. Higgins has more.

The key players in the investigation into the destruction of public documents by staffers at the Maine Center for Disease Control met with members of the Government Oversight Committee for more than six hours – and not by choice. All of the state employees had been subpoenaed.

After an attempt to bar the public from hearing their testimony failed, the panel of lawmakers that oversees the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability finally had their chance to question the staff members.

Committee co-chair Sen. Emily Cain wanted to know who gave CDC Deputy Director Christine Zukas the idea that she should order her employees to destroy documents that led to a reselection of which regional health care program should receive millions of dollars in funding. 

Zukas said after meeting with state Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, she concluded that Mayhew agreed that the documents should be destroyed.

“When the commissioner basically agreed, that was the reason why I made that phone call,” Zukas said. “Because, to me, that was the direction we were to take.”

Cain says that it many ways, the day’s testimony revealed more questions than answers. “It’s possible that we may want to speak with any of these individuals again – or the commissioner,” she said.

One of the more troubling aspects of the day’s testimony came from several key CDC employees involved a decision that was made to re-score some of the grant applications, which resulted in the Bangor Department of Health and Community Services receiving a higher score than it had in the original evaluation process.

Sharon Leahy-Lind, a former CDC division director who claims she was ordered to shred the documents by her supervisors has filed suit against the agency under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. Leahy-Lind was involved in the grant selection process and said she found it odd that Bangor had suddenly moved to the top of the scoring process after formerly placing second.

Leahy-Lind told the committee that she questioned CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette about the change. “So I said, ‘How did Bangor Public Health get to be the lead?’ That wasn’t what I had seen or what we discussed at the last meeting. And Dr. Pinette said, ‘Oh, that’s political,'” Leahy-Lind said.

Under questioning from committee co-chair Sen. Roger Katz, Dr. Pinette denied any involvement in the decision that rescored Bangor’s rating.

Roger Katz: “And you feel that you played no role in the fact that that winner got changed – is that your testimony today?”

Dr. Sheila Pinette: “I don’t believe that I told them that they had to be the lead, no.”

Following the hearing, Sen. Emily Cain said the committee would have to review the original OPEGA investigation into the document-shredding incident and weigh its next move.

“This was a lot of information we got today, we have got to digest it. We’ve got to have our staff and our legal counsel digest it,” Cain said. “And we need to go back and see, does it changes any of the recommendations in the report? Does it make us strengthen them? Do we need to recommend legislation, and do we need to talk to additional people?” Cain said.

And after months of conflicting information, Cain said that the committee was able to finally learn that the documents in question were in fact destroyed by CDC Deputy Director Christine Zukas, who said she either shredded them or tossed them into a recycling bin.