Flaws Emerging in Land Use Planning Commissioner Appointment Process
Testimony by Cathy Johnson, NRCM North Woods Project Director
My name is Cathy Johnson, I am a resident of Alna. I am the North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I am here on behalf of NRCM’s 12,000 members and supporters in opposition to the nomination of Duane Lander.
I believe that this is the first time in my 23 years at NRCM that I have testified against a nominee. I am doing it today because I believe the credibility and integrity of the agency, the Land Use Planning Commission, is at risk.
NRCM is very concerned about both nominees put forward for the LUPC today. We believe that the current process of nominating candidates for the LUPC is seriously flawed and will result in a Commission with many members who do not support the very laws they would be charged to implement and a Commission which does not represent the diversity and interests of Maine people.
Duane Lander’s nomination illustrates multiple problems with this system where county commissioner’s nominate a candidate:
1) Despite legislative efforts to ensure an open and fair process for identifying and nominating qualified candidates, County Commissioners can now nominate their friends and colleagues;
2) Partisan pressure can be exerted to secure a particular candidate;
3) Secret meetings can be held to name a nominee;
4) Previous nominations can be suddenly rescinded with no explanation provided to the original candidate; and
5) Individuals who are openly hostile to the state laws they would administer can be nominated.
The process to appoint new Commissioners to the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) was established as a result of multiple legislative compromises in 2012âand the result is unlike any other state board or commission. Accompanying my testimony is a list of all the Boards and Commissions that require Senate confirmation.
To my knowledge, in every other case, there is appointment by the Governor, after a lengthy vetting process, followed by a nomination hearing before the relevant legislative committee and confirmation (or not) by the Senate. As the LURC reform legislation was debated in 2012, multiple amendments were considered as legislators struggled to ensure a fair and transparent process for appointing qualified Commissioners who are responsible for implementing state laws, while also providing more opportunities for local input. The final result was that 8 of the 9 Commissioners would be nominated by County Commissioners. Turning over the ability to nominate members to a state wide board responsible for implementing state law had never been done before, to our knowledge. Furthermore, the process established that all nominees would be sent directly to the legislative committee for review without any vetting process. Only one of the slots would go through the normal Executive Branch vetting and appointment process involving the Governor.
Many lawmakers were uneasy that this approach might not have the procedural rigor that goes into gubernatorial nominations. And these first two nominations that you are hearing today show that those concerns were totally justified.
Therefore, it is crucial that this Committee approach this LUPC nomination review process much more rigorously than previous nominations made and vetted by the Governor.
To illustrate the problem we see, the first issue of concern with Mr. Lander’s nomination is that partisan political pressure led to a secret [executive session] meeting resulting in the rescinding of one nomination and substitution of another, Duane Lander.
Sally Farrand from Beaver Cove served on the LURC Commissioner for several years. Her term was up in June of 2012. At the June 1, 2012 meeting of LURC, Toby Hammond, a recent appointee to the LURC Commission urged that she be reappointed because her record had been outstanding and she had institutional knowledge that the Commission was in danger of losing because of so many new appointments. The Chair agreed with Mr. Hammond. I was at that meeting, and although the transcript of the hearing doesn’t reflect it, it was clear that a majority or all of the other Commissioners agreed with Commissioner Hammond.
Farrand indicated her interest in being reappointed and during the summer of 2012, she spoke with one of the Piscataquis County Commissioners about being reappointed. The Commissioners put her possible re-nomination to LUPC on their September agenda which was posted on their website and sent to interested parties, heard a public presentation from her at that meeting, and voted unanimously to forward her nomination on to the Legislature. Farrand subsequently began filling out the necessary paperwork for the position.
In November, 2012, one of the three County Commissioners (Tom Lizotte) stepped down after a decade of service and Commissioner Jim Annis, a former Legislator was elected to fill that position.
At the Jan. 2, 2013 County Commissioners’s meeting, Senator Doug Thomas asserted that members of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee (ACF) wanted the Piscataquis County Commissioners to reopen the nomination process for the position. We inquired about who had asked for the nomination process to be reopened, but were told that no one had.
The Commissioners agreed to reopen the nomination process and received additional nominations, including that of Duane Lander, a contractor from the Greenville area.
At their Feb. 5th meeting, the County Commissioners went immediately into a secret executive session, and when they returned they voted on the nomination of Duane Lander for LUPC Commissioner. The vote was 2 â 1 in favor. All of this is reflected in the Piscataquis County Commissioner’s Agendas and Minutes of which I believe you have copies.
Sally Farrand was given no formal notice that her nomination had been rescinded, was not asked to appear before the Commission, and was not asked any questions.
LURC has been a non-partisan board striving to implement the laws assigned to it for over 40 years. While NRCM has certainly not always agreed with LURC’s decisions, we have generally felt that both the nomination process and the decision making process were open and transparent. That is not the case here. Having the nomination of a seasoned, competent citizen overturned in this partisan, political way taints the whole LUPC process and institution.
Our second concern with this candidate is that he has openly advocated abolishing LURC.
Commissions responsible for implementing state laws cannot be effective if they are made up of people who want to abolish the Commission.
Duane Lander served on the LURC Reform stakeholder committee in the fall of 2011. He was openly and repeatedly antagonistic to the existence of LURC, and advocated for its abolishment on multiple occasions. Approvingly, he said “I have asked a lot of people about LURC’s fate. Everyone has said to get rid of it.” His appointment to the LUPC would be a blatant example of the fox guarding the chicken coop.
Third, Duane Lander has a background that is very similar to that of a current sitting Commissioner, who lives only a few miles from Mr. Lander.
In the past, LURC has always included a diversity of views, occupations and genders. With these appointments today, the LUPC will include only one woman (and her term whose term is up in July) and will be duplicating the occupation of a sitting commissioner. This loss of diversity will narrow the perspectives included on the Commission.
For these reasons, we urge the Committee to vote against the nomination of Mr. Lander to the LUPC.
Thank you for your attention.