- Associated Press - Friday, March 14, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - State officials admitted Friday in a public hearing that Maine’s Center for Disease Control destroyed state documents and manipulated selection criteria in a state program.

Five officials with the Maine CDC appeared before the Government Oversight Board after being subpoenaed. The committee is investigating allegations that the agency manipulated criteria in the Healthy Maine Partnerships Program, benefiting the Bangor Department of Health and Human Services by giving it a higher rating.

The documents that were destroyed gave details of how the state planned to distribute $4.7 million in grants.

During testimony, Christine Zukas, the CDC deputy director, said the documents that were destroyed were working drafts that led to the creation of a final copy and that the CDC’s policy was unclear on what to do with such documents.

She asked others to destroy the draft to prevent confusion with the final plan, though she said during testimony that she had not destroyed similar documents in other projects.

Zukas also admitted that the CDC changed the way it evaluated grant applicants when the Bangor department did not achieve a high enough score under its guidelines. With the new scoring system, Bangor achieved a higher number.

Both the CDC’s director of public health, Debra Wigand, and the senior program manager for Healthy Maine Partnerships, Andrew Finch, testified that Zukas told them to destroy the working draft.

The five officials who were subpoenaed had requested that the meeting be conducted in private to keep it from interfering in a federal whistleblower lawsuit. But the committee voted to proceed with a public meeting that was streamed online.

The federal lawsuit was filed by a former employee of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Sharon Leahy-Lind, who says her boss ordered her to destroy the records because a newspaper was filing a Freedom of Access Act request.

Leahy-Lind said she was harassed when she refused to dispose of the documents and filed the lawsuit against a top CDC official.

Following the testimony, the oversight committee issued a statement, saying it upheld principals of open government by keeping the session open to the public.

In a period for open comment at the end of the meeting, a senior CDC official said he hope the testimony would not overshadow the purpose of the Healthy Maine Partnerships Program, which helps Mainers with substance abuse and common health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and asthma.

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