National Guard general, Farmington selectmen grab our attention this week

THUMBS DOWN to the adjutant general of the Maine Army National Guard for his handling of a reported plan to move out of Maine the 133rd Engineer Battalion.

Brig. Gen. James Campbell waited three weeks to respond to a Portland Press Herald report that the 133rd, long based in Gardiner, would be sent to another state in exchange for an infantry unit. And when he did respond, in an email Tuesday to members of the 133rd, his statement contradicted earlier reports and statements, raising more questions than he answered.

Campbell, who just recently returned from a five-week fellowship in the Middle East, has not responded to numerous requests for clarification.

Campbell met Thursday with Gov. Paul LePage, but a planned public appearance by the governor following the meeting was canceled, and Campbell avoided reporters waiting outside the governor’s office. LePage issued a statement following the meeting, saying that a decision on the 133rd was far from final, and blaming Democrats for leaking Campbell’s plan.

In the email, Campbell said the plan has been “falsely portrayed in the media as a ‘done deal.’” He said it is merely a contigency plan should the Defense Department follow through on its proposal to reduce the overall number of National Guard units as part of a general reduction in military personnel.

But that doesn’t explain why Campbell described the move as “highly likely” in an email last month to Maine’s congressional delegation, or why his chief of staff indicated in a presentation to several guard officers that the 133rd likely would be moved by next summer.

Campbell also did not explain why explanations for the move have now changed. When the story broke, a Maine Army National Guard spokesman said adding infantry to the Maine guard was part of a statewide plan put in place in 2008, and that an infantry unit would be “more useful” to Maine. Neither point was raised in Campbell’s email.

Perhaps the discrepancy can be explained. But the longer Campbell goes without answering these questions, the more it looks like he was caught off guard by the negative reaction to the plan, and is now trying to find somewhere else to place the blame.

THUMBS UP to the Farmington Board of Selectmen for immediately addressing a matter related to the board’s transparency.

Selectman Josh Bell recently raised the issue of a contract for the town manager while the board was working under the agenda item “old business.”

That item is typically reserved as a catch-all for minor, last-minute issues, not for discussing what would be the first contract for Town Manager Richard Davis.

Bell’s mistake appears to be an honest one. But such a substantive issue should be listed separately on the agenda that is posted publicly, so that residents and the press are alerted that it will be addressed.

To their credit, the Farmington selectmen realized that a mistake had been made, and on Tuesday night the board had a fruitful discussion about how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

THUMBS DOWN to the U.S. Department of Justice for moving the Togus VA Medical Center to Gardiner in a press release announcing the sentence of a Poland man for stealing VA travel benefits.

The release said Steven Chartier had received $10,448.06 more than he should have by claiming “travel benefits for 64 260-mile trips from Limestone, Maine, in Aroostook County, to the Togus V.A. Medical Center, in Gardiner.”

Togus is its own federal district, with its own ZIP code, though for geographical purposes it sits partly in Chelsea and partly in Augusta. But not in Gardiner.