Maine AG Sues Over Closed Ed Panel Meeting

     AUGUSTA, Maine (CN) – A commission to reduce education funding created by Maine’s Republican governor illegally closed its first meeting to the public, according to a lawsuit filed by the state’s democratic attorney general.
     The first meeting of Gov. Paul LePage’s Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine took place at the governor’s mansion on April 25.
     It was led by acting state Education Secretary William Beardsley, with a policy advisor to the governor standing in the driveway, preventing the public from seeing what took place.
     Maine Attorney General Janet Mills sued the commission in Kennebec Superior Court on July 8, arguing that the governor’s staff illegally barred members of the public from attending.
     The original plan was for the meeting to take place at the State House, but even then, it was intended to be a closed meeting, the complaint says.
     After a public outcry about the lack of access, the meeting was moved to the governor’s mansion and recast as an informal breakfast intended for the commission members to get to know each other.
     Several members of the public, including a state Sen. Rebecca Millett, a Democrat, were turned away from the governor’s mansion by policy advisor Aaron Chadbourne, who in a video of the encounter later uploaded to YouTube, claimed that the Freedom of Information Act mandated that open public meeting requirements only applied to commissions formed by the legislature and that the school funding commission was formed by the executive branch, and therefore exempt from the rules.
     An agenda for the “informal breakfast” was released, which refers to the event as the Commission’s first meeting, with a list of objectives proposed for discussion.
     “The agenda for the April 25 meeting made clear that the Commission would be engaging in the task assigned to it by its enabling statute: studying education issues for the purpose of producing a report with findings and recommendations,” the complaint says.
     Following the meeting at the Governor’s mansion, LePage told his staff that he would rather disband the commission than open future meetings to the public, according to the lawsuit.
     The lawsuit is seeking a $500 fine against the commission for violating state open meeting laws. A spokesperson from the governor’s office failed to respond to an email request for comment.

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