P R E S S R E L E A S E
Contact: Mal Leary, president
email@example.com or 621-0702
Judith Meyer, vice-president
firstname.lastname@example.org or 689-2902
Fewer than half of Maine’s organizations related to state government through statute or funding have codes of ethics and conduct to manage accountability to the public.
In August, Rebecca Wyke, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services, distributed a memo to 126 so-called component units and other related organizations of state government informing those organizations that Gov. Baldacci intended to prepare legislation to require development of codes of ethics and conduct. Attached to that memo was a sample code of ethics and a strong suggestion that the identified agencies adopt codes in advance of legislation requiring them to do so. Since that time, the Governor has proposed legislation for consideration by the current Legislature to require codes of ethics.
In November, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition mailed requests to each of the 126 agencies identified by the Governor’s office as related organizations of state government to identify how many have codes of ethics and conduct. Of those contacted:
- 57 agencies (or 45 percent) have codes of ethics and conduct; of those, 39 agencies (or 68 percent) adopted codes following Commissioner Wyke’s recommendation;
- 36 agencies (or 28 percent) do not have current codes of ethics and conduct, but most are considering adoption and are working on draft documents;
- 3 agencies (the Disability Rights Center, Board of the Maine Children’s Trust, Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission) do not consider themselves related organizations of state government or subject to Commissioner Wyke’s recommendation; and
- 30 agencies (or 23 percent) do not respond to the Maine FOI Coalition’s request for copies of codes of ethics and conduct filed under the Maine Freedom of Access Act.
In making her recommendation, Commissioner Wyke reminded the 126 agencies that the “citizens of Maine have every right to expect that their government be accountable to them and that the officials they entrust to manage the affairs of government be guided by the highest standards of honor, personal integrity and fortitude in all of their activities.”
In conducting its code of ethics audit, the Maine FOI Coalition joined Commissioner Wyke in her statement of belief that government must be accountable to the public, said Judith Meyer, audit coordinator and vice-president of the Maine FOI Coalition, and the “refusal of some of these groups to even respond to a request made under the public records law does not demonstrate accountability.”
“It is particularly troubling when several agencies that are clearly subject to the law chose not to respond at all to our request, Mal Leary, president of the Maine FOI Coalition, said. “The Dirigo Health Agency, the Maine Economic Growth Council, the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the Criminal Law Advisory Commission are all clearly state-connected agencies that should have answered our inquiry and did not.”
“The public has a genuine interest in knowing whether state-connected agencies have a code of ethics,” Meyer said. “We were simply following up on a letter sent on behalf of the Governor to state agencies telling them they should adopt a code and we found some groups ignoring the Governor’s request.”
A review of codes of ethics adopted since Commissioner Wyke’s memo indicate that most of the agencies following the commissioner’s recommendation adopted the sample code she provided, including the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which adopted its code of ethics on Dec. 12. A number of agencies – such as the Atlantic Salmon Commissioner and the Civil Air Patrol – were more thorough, adopting rigorous codes detailing standards of behavior, ethical decision-making and compliance. Other agencies, such as the Baxter State Park Authority and the Maine Humanities Council, are using Commissioner Wyke’s sample code as a template and drafting documents that closely reflects the standards and mission of their respective agencies.
The push to formalize codes of ethics came on the heels of public outrage after learning five top Maine Turnpike Authority managers and three of their chief engineering consultants accepted the gift of a $1,342 dinner paid for by a New Jersey highway consultant last summer. Responding to the appearance of impropriety, the Maine Turnpike Authority adopted its current code of ethics and conduct on Sept. 8.
According to the MTA’s staff attorney, Jonathan Arey, the code “contains stricter requirements than those in the sample circulated by Commissioner Wyke. The code’s adoption was accompanied by training sessions, covering the code and ethical issues in general, for members of our board and for all of our supervisory employees, and we intend to provide refresher training on an annual basis.”
Attached is the Maine FOI Coalition’s spreadsheet containing the responses of the 126 agencies contacted, noting which agencies have codes and when they were adopted. The spreadsheet also reports which agencies declined to respond to the Coalition’s FOAA request.