The stalemate between Gov. Paul LePage and the Kennebec County Democratic Committee over county government vacancies is leaving the Kennebec County Commission concerned about its ability to do its work.

Short one commissioner since the September death of Beverly Daggett, the now two-member commission was unable to meet in November because it lacked a quorum to take the most basic of county actions — pay the bills.

In a letter to LePage this month, commission Chairwoman Nancy Rines, Commissioner George Jabar and County Administrator Robert Devlin urged the governor to fill the vacancy.

In part, the letter reads:

“This appointment is critical to the financial and operational integrity of Kennebec’s governance. As you know, county commissioners serve their communities while juggling the demands of their full-time careers and families. As a result, scheduling conflicts will occur. With only two sitting commissioners at this time, these scheduling conflicts have forced the cancellation of several commissioners meetings, leaving important financial and operational issues on the table.”

The letter also refers to the county’s efforts — through the jail — to help address “the opiate epidemic in our state” with the Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy, an intensive five-week program that helps jail inmates overcome substance abuse and criminal behavior.

“To date over 500 citizens have gone through our CARA program, ready to reenter the community with the tools needed to avoid further addictive habits and the crime that too often supports these habits,” the letter reads.

It also mentions efforts by the county to pay for additional drug agents, calling Kennebec County “the only county in Maine that has committed resources to attack this problem on two fronts.”

The governor has two vacancies in Kennebec County to fill. In addition to the commission opening, LePage created a vacancy in the sheriff’s office when he appointed former Sheriff Randall Liberty to the position of warden of the Maine State Prison in Warren.

Because both offices were held by Democrats, by state law the county Democratic Committee is charged with forwarding the names of nominees for appointment. The committee identified Patsy Crockett, a former state representative, and Patrick Paradis, an Augusta city councilor, as its District 1 nominees to the county commission and Ryan Reardon, the interim county sheriff, as its nominee for the sheriff’s office at an Oct. 21 meeting. The committee delivered the names to the governor’s office the following day.

At that time, Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said the governor wanted to see three names for each vacancy and that he was traveling to China for 10 days.

On Monday, Bennett said via email the status of the appointments hasn’t changed since then, and if that should change, the director of the Governor’s Office Department of Boards and Commissions would let her know.

State law requires the governor to choose from any recommendations submitted by the county committee of the political party from which the appointment is made. It does not require the committee to submit a specific number of names.

While Reardon can continue to work as interim sheriff until a special election in 2016 to fill the final two years of Liberty’s term, no other option exists to fill the commission vacancy until the November election. Daggett’s term expires at the end of 2016.

“When you don’t have the ability to meet, that puts county operations at risk,” Rosemary Kulow, executive director of the Maine County Commissioners Association, said. With a small number of commissioners, as is the case in Kennebec County, it’s easy to not have a quorum.”

Because Kennebec County doesn’t have a charter, Kulow said, it’s governed by state law, and it has no other option than gubernatorial appointment to fill the vacancies.

County commissioners are responsible for the fiscal operations and policy decisions of county government. Jails, courts and prosecuting attorneys fall under the county government umbrella, as do emergency management and public safety functions.

“We’ve had to juggle,” Devlin said Monday. “Sometimes George is stuck in court, and Nancy had a trip to Florida that she had planned for a long time.”

Because the commission was unable to meet in November, paying the bills was delayed by having to collect signatures via mail.

As the commissioners move forward on the project to increase the capacity at the Kennebec County jail to deal with overcrowding, Devlin said the commissioners will have policy decisions to make and contracts to sign. Not too long after that, budget season starts, he said.

“It’s making things more difficult,” Rines said, adding that executing county business is harder with two commissioners than with three. If the commissioners should disagree on a vote, they will be deadlocked with no third commissioner to break a tie.

She said she wasn’t aware that the governor had apparently requested three names for each vacancy.

If the position goes unfilled until the end of Daggett’s term, the commission would be short one commissioner for a year and a half.

Rita Moran, chairwoman of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, said the governor is depriving the residents of commission District 1 — Augusta, Chelsea, China, Manchester, Sidney, Vassalboro and Windsor — representation on the county commission.

“The governor has dug in his heels and refused to appoint a commissioner from the list of names given to him by the Kennebec County Democratic Committee as requested by statute,” Moran said.

“This has caused harm to the residents of (District 1) by depriving them of representation given to them under state law. The county has long been known as an organization that has paid its bills on time, and now a failure to get a quorum has caused delays in payment.”

A similar situation cropped up in 2012 when a vacancy in the district attorney’s office for Kennebec and Somerset counties prompted a stalemate between LePage and Democrats in the two counties. The Democrats forwarded a single candidate, Maeghan Maloney, to serve as interim district attorney for the two counties after Evert Fowle resigned to accept a LePage appointment as a district court judge. LePage declined to appoint Maloney, saying he believed the Democrats had a duty to forward him a list of names, not just one.

Maloney later ran for and was elected to the office. In the absence of an appointee, Alan Kelley, deputy district attorney under Fowle, served as the interim district attorney.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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