AUGUSTA — A conservative think tank on Tuesday questioned expenditures at the Maine State Housing Authority, releasing a list of vendors that includes payments for massage services, a martial arts academy and tickets to places such as Funtown/Splashtown.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center filed a Freedom of Access Act request over the summer for all vendor payments going back to 1998. The information posted on The Maine Wire, the group’s news site, includes a list of vendors, but no payment amounts or reasons for the expenditures.

“Even giving a huge benefit of the doubt, there’s not much of a correlation between affordable housing and martial arts, dance clubs and Funtown/Splashtown,” said Lance Dutson, executive director of the policy center.

Dutson also questioned the appropriateness of vendor payments to hotels such as Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and Caribe Royal in Orlando.

Maine housing spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said housing officials travel to many conferences every year, often getting discounted or corporate rates at hotels. Some of the other payments, such as massage services and the rental of an Augusta dance club, are related to staff training and wellness days. The authority also hired a disc jockey for a Christmas party, which was paid partly by housing funds and partly by employees.

The Funtown/Splashtown tickets were bought first by employees, then the authority put in a bulk order for tickets to the Saco amusement park, she said. Some of the expenditures occurred before current director Dale McCormick took over in January 2005, she said. Payments before McCormick took over include a 2002 payment to a martial arts company, the Theatre at Monmouth in 1998, and Cesar’s Palace in 2003.

During McCormick’s tenure, State House lobbyist Betsy Sweet, a former partner of McCormick, was hired by the authority to conduct interpersonal skills training for staff, Turcotte said. McCormick was not involved with the decision to hire Sweet, who was hired by the authority’s human resources department, she said.

Turcotte said the authority is a $1.6 billion financial institution that undergoes eight audits a year, mostly because of federal funding. She said questions raised by the policy center are based on their interpretation of the information they’ve received so far.

“Further analysis will show these expenditures were paid on items that were in tune with the mission of Maine Housing and the education, training and wellness of its employees,” she said.

Dutson said the group will continue to push for the release of additional information, including the expenditure amounts. He agreed that the information released so far raises “more questions than answers.”

“I think McCormick needs to explain these expenditures,” he said. “I think the people of Maine are owed an explanation.”

Susan Cover – 620-7015

[email protected]

 


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