You never know who’s going to end up running into a bureaucratic brick wall when they are trying to get hold of information from a Maine government agency.

This time, it’s Gov. Paul LePage.

In a complaint filed Oct. 27, Maine’s chief executive claims that he was stiff-armed by Attorney General Janet Mills when he demanded documents about a case she joined in federal court over the president Trump’s travel bans for residents for certain countries.

LePage claims that he is entitled to see documents that state employees worked on in preparation for the case, but the Attorney General’s Office refused, saying they are exempt from the Freedom of Access Act. LePage wants to know how the attorney general came to be involved in the case, and that’s a matter of public interest and should not remain hidden.

We are not going to comment on the merits of the governor’s argument, but we know what he’s going through.

We know what it’s like to see a government agency handle the people’s business as if it were their own private business. We know what it’s like to have records requests languish for months or even years, when they could be fulfilled with a few clicks on a keyboard. We know what it’s like to deal with officials who don’t think the law applies to them.


Mostly, we’ve learned about this from LePage himself.

There are literally dozens of FOAA request unfulfilled by agencies in this administration, and the worst offender is the governor’s own office.

For instance, how much of the state’s money did the governor spend on his many trips to Washington this year?

Where did the governor go and who did he meet with when he was acting in an official capacity?

What was on the agenda?

We don’t know because his office won’t tell us, despite our filing timely written requests in compliance with the law. Unfortunately, Maine has a weak and expensive appeals process when officials won’t abide by the law. You have to go to Superior Court to make a complaint, and there is no way to recover your legal fees if you win, so there is very little risk for public officials who don’t feel like complying.


That means that relatively minor requests like LePage’s travel expenses may never be fulfilled, and no one in the governor’s office will be held to account.

Lawmakers should consider the implications of this situation. This is not a partisan issue.

Previous Maine governors — Democratic, Republican and independent — considered it their duty to publish this kind of information without waiting for formal written requests. There is no special demand on this governor that was not made on his predecessors. In fact, it’s Gov. LePage who has taken secrecy to a new level.

This is the governor who equipped his staff members with two phones so they could converse using a messaging system that would not leave a record that could be subject to a document request. This is the governor who communicates using hand-written notes that are not copied or archived. This is a governor who called the Freedom of Access Act — which every board of selectmen and school committee has lived under since 1959 — a “form of internal terrorism.

Will the next governor go back to the old way of doing business, or will LePage’s recalcitrance become the new normal? And if the governor can get away with this, what affect will that have in town halls?

If you think this is just a problem for the news media, take a look at who is running into problems now.

The governor, armed with in-house legal staff and an outside law firm, can get frustrated with the rules and regulations about who gets to see what, so imagine the frustration of an ordinary citizen who just wants to know what’s in the school budget or what’s planned for a piece of land next door.

Maybe this struggle with Mills will remind the governor about his campaign promise to have the most transparent administration in history. Until his issues get straightened out, all we can say is: governor, we feel your pain.

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