Legislators grill DHHS on shredding allegations

9:09 PM, Jan 24, 2014   |    comments
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AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The Maine Department of Health and Human Services continues to be in the hot seat as legislators try to get to the bottom of allegations staff members were ordered to shred public documents and managers broke the law in suppressing public information.

News Center spoke with former Director of Public Health Sharon Leahy-Lind, who first brought the issue to light. "I was ordered to shred documents on two occasions,"  told Newscenter. Leahy-Lind has filed a lawsuit under the Federal Whistleblower Act.

At issue was a plan to reallocate millions of dollars in funding for different district offices under the Healthy Maine Partnerships (HMP) program. Funding had been cut significantly and the program was being restructured. Leahy-Lind says the documents in question were evidence that the funding was being "manipulated by CDC Director Sheila Pinette and Deputy Director Christine Zukas-Lessard so certain HMP's were favored over others".

"I reported it through the chain of command. I was sounding an alarm, says Lehy-Lind.In her response to Leahy-Lind's Whistleblower case CDC Director Sheila Pinette admits "Leahy-Lind was told ... to destroy working documents" but  "{Pinette} denies remaining allegations" including "possibly illegal activity" or that she "harassed, discriminated and retaliated against Sharon" or "publically discredited and slandered {Sharon}"

Leahy-Lind was eventually dismissed and filed a Freedom of Access request to obtain her files. She says "When documents were finally produced, the spreadsheet... that I was told to shred ... was missing."

Leahy-Lind's allegations prompted an investigation by OPEGA, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability or OPEGA ... which has also been unable to locate the document in question.

"We have recommended DHHS clarify their document retention policy given there is significant funding and public impact," says Beth Ashcroft, Director of OPEGA.

Visibily frustrated legislators grilled DHHS representatives at today's hearing.

"We need your assurance that if you find intentional wrongdoing and illegal activity there will be consequences," said Sen. David Burns.

"I think that part of the process if we were to do this again," says William Boeschenstein, DHHS Chief Operating Officer, "would be to clearly identify that these documents - if appropriate - need to be kept."

If you would like to read the full OPEGA Report on the issue, click here.

 

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