Read LePage’s hiring freeze memos and decide for yourself

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage said this morning that an article the BDN published yesterday about a state government hiring freeze was “not at all what’s happening.”

“The fix is in by the media,” said LePage during his weekly radio appearance on WVOM. “It’s getting worse and worse and worse. They don’t check their facts and they just say what they want. If you want decent media coverage you should just go to the Enquirer. … What bothers me is the media who promote themselves as journalists and they just don’t put the facts out.”

The BDN regularly summarize what the governor says during his radio appearances and always links to the audio itself, which is usually posted at this page. We do that — and whenever possible link to original documents in our articles — so you can personally review the material if you choose.

At issue is this story, which we published after the BDN received documents on Monday from someone who asked not to be identified. The gist of the documents, and the article, was that LePage has imposed a hiring freeze across the executive branch, with exceptions to be personally approved by the governor or his chief of staff, John McGough. Here’s the document. If you don’t want to click through, here’s an excerpt:

“As the administration prepares the next biennial budget, it is important that we have a firm understanding of executive branch positions, vacancies and the number of state employees needed to deliver services to the people of Maine in the most efficient manner possible. The governor is directing that all new executive branch hiring cease until further notice. Beginning immediately, no positions will be posted by the Bureau of Human Resources, nor should they be posted by agencies electronically or in print. Positions that are already posted may be filled.”

That July 18 memo was signed by Joyce Oreskovich, director of the state’s Bureau of Human Resources. On July 19, she issued another memo. Here’s an excerpt:

“In accordance with [the governor’s] directive, beginning immediately and until further notice, no new recruitment activity will be posted on the Bureau of Human Resources’ website (open competitive jobs or direct hire jobs), nor should they be posted by agencies electronically or in print, unless the request is accompanied by a completed hiring justification form bearing the approval from the governor’s office.”

We forwarded the documents to Oreskovich and LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett at about 1 p.m. on Monday with the following question: “Can either of you confirm or debunk the authenticity of these documents?”

When there was no response — and as of this writing there still has been no response or request for a correction — the BDN published the article at around 5 p.m. Monday. By this morning it was being summarized by several Maine media outlets, including on WVOM just minutes before and after LePage’s appearance.

We contacted the Maine State Employees Association on Monday, which had heard about the hiring freeze document through its members.

In a perfect world, journalists would not publish a story based on documents without on-the-record confirmation from their source, but journalism does not exist in a perfect world. Journalists can’t let sources — especially elected officials — control what is published by ignoring a reporter’s questions. During LePage’s tenure, his staff and other executive branch staff have ignored information requests on a regular basis, or when they do respond they pick and choose which questions to address and which to ignore.

As an example, on June 28 the BDN reported on LePage’s executive order that dealt with how to fund four bills he said the Legislature enacted without proper funding sources — including his suggestion that a hiring freeze be implemented. A phrase in the executive order was unclear so we emailed Bennett and a DHHS spokeswoman a few questions on June 28, including about the scope of the hiring freeze, whether there would be an appeals process for filling essential positions and whether positions at the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta were considered essential and therefore not subject to the hiring freeze. The only response we received was from Bennett, who merely sent the BDN’s questions back with the words “department wide” highlighted in yellow.

On the radio, LePage explained his rationale for restricting executive branch hiring.

“All we’re trying to do in Maine is right-size government,” he said. “In the last 40 years we’ve got to the point that we have way too many jobs.”

That was in Monday’s article. So was the fact that this has been LePage’s goal for years and that the Legislature has repeatedly thwarted his efforts at accomplishing this and a number of other initiatives — which is a mainstay in LePage’s complaints about why more of his initiatives aren’t implemented. That’s fair reporting in the face of silence from the administration.

LePage attacks the media in just about all of his public appearances, ranging from his radio interviews (he has adopted a policy of not talking to most other reporters in Maine) to his public town hall tours.

And by the way, the hiring freeze wasn’t the only issue the BDN asked the LePage administration about on Monday. We have heard that the state — perhaps LePage himself, with an Apple Corp. executive — renegotiated the Maine Learning Technology Initiative contract, which uses taxpayer dollars to provide laptop computers and tablets to students in Maine’s public schools. The tipster says the contract is better for Maine students than the previous one, which sounds like a victory for the LePage administration.

But those questions — including a simple request to Bennett and a spokeswoman for the Department of Education for a copy of the new contract — have been ignored as well. — Christopher Cousins


Quick hit 

  • Libertarians gathering: The Maine Libertarian Party will hold a statewide barbecue meeting on Sunday at the Lincoln Street Center in Rockland for anyone who is interested in working on the campaign to elect Gary Johnson and Bill Weld in the November presidential election. The event begins at 4 p.m. and those interested are asked to RSVP to Joe Steinberger at steinberger@gwi.net or call him at 596-0731.

Reading list


Get your Clinton and Trump condoms

RipnRoll.com, purveyors of condoms, is selling presidential campaign-themed condoms. There are several varieties to choose from, including a Clinton condom that says “Designed to give a sense of security while you’re getting screwed” on the wrapper and a Trump condom with a wrapper that reads “this thing is huge.”

We thought you’d like to know. — Christopher Cousins

Flea in Hallowell?

BDN political scribe Michael Shepherd said the most interesting thing I heard all day yesterday: That he saw Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea (who despite his weird name is widely accepted a funk bass LEGEND) dining at Cafe de Bangkok in Hallowell.

Here’s your soundtrack, from the Peppers’ earlier stuff. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.