AUGUSTA — First lady Ann LePage’s brother-in-law got a $68,577-a-year job last month with the State Planning Office.
Jody Ledoux, married to Ann LePage’s sister, became the agency’s director of administrative services on Feb. 13, according to state payroll records. The job is not expected to last a full year, however, because the planning office will be eliminated June 30.
Ledoux is the second LePage family member to go to work in the executive branch. In December 2010, the newly elected governor hired his daughter, a recent college graduate, to work for him.
Lauren LePage earned $40,455 in 2011 as the governor’s special assistant, according to payroll records. His daughter’s hiring drew criticism from taxpayers and voters and led Democrats to propose anti-nepotism legislation, which eventually was defeated by Republicans.
The recent hiring of Ann LePage’s brother-in-law may reignite that debate, although it is a different situation. Ledoux has years of professional experience in construction that his supervisor said is related to the work he is doing for the state.
“I think the thing that really got people upset about the governor hiring his daughter is that she seemed to be really underqualified for the job and the salary,” said Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, who sponsored the anti-nepotism bill as a state representative.
Dill said she had not heard about Ann LePage’s brother-in-law and couldn’t judge whether it qualifies as nepotism.
“It could very well be he’s qualified for the job, but it could be he got the job because he’s the brother-in-law of the governor,” Dill said.
Ledoux is well qualified for the work he’s doing, according to State Planning Office Director Peter Rogers.
“He’s done some great things for me,” Rogers said Friday. “Jody’s background makes him a great candidate to be working on this.”
Rogers said Ledoux is conducting a review of the state’s leased property to identify ways to streamline or cut costs. Ledoux is working with officials in other departments, but the work is one of the roles of the planning office, Rogers said.
Ledoux has been a project manager in the construction industry in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida.
No specifics were available Friday because Rogers was out of the office and did not have access to Ledoux’s résumé.
Ledoux is earning a higher salary than his more high-profile relative, the governor. LePage earned $65,567 in 2011 as governor, according to payroll records.
Ledoux wouldn’t talk about his résumé or his job on Friday and referred questions to Rogers.
Rogers could not provide details about the hiring process, such as whether the job was a vacant position or newly created and whether it was posted.
Rogers, who was Paul LePage’s communications director, was appointed planning director two days after Ledoux started work there.
Ledoux was hired by former director Richard Swanson, who was fired after being arrested and charged with drunken driving. Swanson did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.
Rogers said he had questions, too, when he became director and Ledoux disclosed his relationship to LePage.
“I took a pretty in-depth look at the personnel file and the résumé,” Rogers said. “If anybody would tell me something like that, I’d just want to make sure the person is well qualified. I looked at the résumé and I liked what I saw.”
Maine is in the minority of states that have no specific law limiting hiring family members in government.
“More than half of the states have some sort of anti-nepotism law,” said Caitlin Ginley, a researcher for the Center for Public Integrity. Those laws would not necessarily rule out state jobs for relatives of the governor. The national organization plans to release a report Monday comparing the states’ nepotism laws and other anti-corruption policies.
However, Maine’s state employment law does include a section prohibiting the direct hiring of state workers by their family members, with exemptions for specific groups of employees, Maine Human Resources Director Joyce Oreskovitch said. Lauren LePage was exempt from the law as a member of the governor’s office staff, she said.
It wasn’t clear Friday how state law applies to Ledoux’s position or his hiring.
Dill said an anti-nepotism law with additional standards would help ensure that employees are hired based on merit. It would not mean the state can’t hire qualified relatives of the governor, she said.
“The point is we would at least have confidence that he is qualified to do the job and to earn $68,000 (a year) of taxpayers’ money,” Dill said.
Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said Dill didn’t make a compelling argument that Maine needed an anti-nepotism law, which, he said, was seen as a political football.
Hiring should be based on competence, but applicants for jobs should not be ruled out based on who they are related to, Cushing said.
“Then it becomes a question of, can somebody’s relative work in state government if they have a family member who is in some way engaged in state business?” he said. “We’re a small state, it would be very difficult to have a blanket policy that prohibits family members from participating in some level of government.”
Ronald Schmidt, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine, said hiring of politicians’ family members can turn off some voters, even if the family members are qualified.
“Voters who feel that people in government acted in an unethical way are less likely to listen to politicians and they’re less likely to participate, and I think that’s problem,” he said. “I have no idea whether this qualifies as unethical. It just seems it might be seen in the voters mind as undue influence.”
John Richardson — 620-7016