AUGUSTA — The LePage administration has recruited seven people to serve on a panel that will conduct a secret review of the state commission that settles discrimination complaints against employers, housing providers and educational institutions.

Gov. Paul LePage created the panel to review the Maine Human Rights Commission with an executive order issued April 21, about a month after the governor and rights commission Executive Director Amy Sneirson clashed over his intervention in a discrimination case involving Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro. LePage threatened to investigate the commission when it refused to reopen the case, brought by a waitress who accused the diner’s co-owner of religious discrimination. The case went to U.S. District Court but was settled with a confidential agreement, filed in Portland on Sept. 29, in which both sides dropped the court action.

Although LePage issued his executive order on April 21, it was not made public until Tuesday, a violation of the Maine Freedom of Access Act. Copies of the order were not posted on the governor’s website or provided to the Legislative Council and the Law and Legislative Reference Library within a week of its release, which is also required by law.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said she made the error of failing to post the order online. However, it appears the administration was unaware of the requirement to provide copies to the law library and the council comprised of legislative leaders.

LePage’s office sent copies of all executive orders issued this year to the two legislative offices Wednesday at 12:17, about 40 minutes after the Press Herald cited the law in an email to the governor’s press secretary.

Executive or administrative orders are among several legal tools that governors use to execute their duties. The orders carry the weight and enforcement power of law.


LePage’s panel did not get off the ground earlier this year, but it now appears to be moving forward. Sneirson said Wednesday that the governor’s legal counsel, Cynthia Montgomery, notified her of the review in August.

The order to form the panel makes no reference to the Moody’s case, but it asserts that members of the business community believe the rights commission gives more deference to people who bring complaints.

Sneirson said Montgomery told her the panel was created not because of the Moody’s case, but in response to “a flood” of complaints to the governor’s office about the commission.

Sneirson doubts that there were that many complaints. She said individuals involved in a complaint have always been unhappy with decisions, but that dissatisfaction was equally distributed between businesses and complainants.

She also said she disagreed with the reasons for the review panel, but wasn’t unhappy with how it’s constructed. She said the panel may ultimately highlight the commission’s work and its need for more investigators.

Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the administration was “not attempting to hide information” about the executive order. She said the review panel will convene this month but she couldn’t say when they would complete their work.


“As for the objective of the group, it is the governor’s intent to improve the process of the MHRC,” she added. “The governor does not intend to intervene with the process or any of the casework conducted by the MHRC. The creation of the group is only to address the process, not the outcomes of cases.”

Bennett released a list of the seven members of the panel, which features a number of lawyers who represent complainants, businesses, apartment owners and Pine Tree Legal Assistance, as well as others familiar with the commission.

David Clough, head of the Maine chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, has been asked to recommend a member to the panel. Clough said his members are concerned primarily with the cost and duration of complaints.

Sneirson said some complaints can take a long time to adjudicate. She said the commission fielded 750 complaints in the last fiscal year that contained 1,700 different claims. She said some cases can take up to two years to adjudicate if they require an investigator’s report, the final stage of the process. Those that don’t reach the final stage can take less than a year, and the average was seven months. Overall, the 12-member commission resolved 678 cases in the last fiscal year and filed 285 written reports, according to data it provided to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee this year.

By comparison, the nine-member staff at New Hampshire’s human rights commission took in 166 cases. Other states’ resolution rates were not available, but generally, the average time staff and investigators spent on cases was higher relative to the lower number of cases.

Under LePage’s order, the review will not take place in public. The order cites a provision of the Freedom of Access Act that allows the governor to create a review panel or commission and exempt it from the state’s open meeting law.

In 2014, The Sunlight Foundation reviewed how states administered and made public executive and administrative orders. Maine was listed as one of the “bad” states and in some cases did not publish executive orders for up to eight months.

Maine governors have been required to keep a public file of executive and administrative orders since 1975. The law was updated in 2011 to require that the orders be published on the governor’s website and given to the Legislative Council and law library within a week of issuance.

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