AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee voted today to speed up a review of vendor records and other expenditures at the Maine State Housing Authority in light of recent questions about whether some of the payments were an appropriate use of funds.

At a housing authority board meeting earlier this month, Chairman Peter Anastos grilled Director Dale McCormick about why she authorized giving money to a theater group for ex-convicts, and for some other contributions to groups he considered to be left-leaning.

At that same meeting, McCormick said she was considering asking the Legislature’s watchdog office to speed up a review of her agency in hopes that it would get accurate, neutral information out to the public.

She got her wish, at least in part, today when a bipartisan group of lawmakers directed the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to do a “rapid response” review of five years worth of vendor records. A separate review of the entire agency, which was previously authorized by the committee, could take up to a year to complete.

In a letter to fellow committee members, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, wrote that there have been “vigorous suggestions of improper spending and equally vigorous defenses of that spending.”

In light of that, they suggested the rapid response by program evaluation Director Beth Ashcroft.

“Our thinking is that the unquestioned objectivity and non-partisanship of Beth Ashcroft and her staff would provide all of us with some objective data and conclusions which would help clear the air,” they wrote. “From our perspective, this should not be a partisan issue at all.”

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said she and other Democrats supported the move to get the dispute out of the media and before the committee.

“This will give them (MSHA) a chance to respond,” she said.

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