November 18, 2019

MMA panel nomination put on hold

AUGUSTA — The Senate has stalled confirmation of Robert Moore, a longtime adviser to Gov. John R. McKernan, to the board of trustees of Maine Maritime Academy amid reports that former Democratic state Sen. Barbara Trafton wanted to be reappointed to the board.

MMA President Kenneth Curtis, who supports Trafton, has said he was angry that McKernan did not consult him about the appointment.

McKernan had nominated Moore to replace Trafton on the MMA board.

Curtis said Tuesday he was not pleased with the loss of Trafton from the board, nor with the fact that he had not been consulted about the replacement.

“One of the hardest working trustees was not reappointed, which, of course, is the governor’s prerogative,” Curtis said. “But I was not consulted on the replacement.”

Curtis said the role of public schools has been changing in recent years and that the role of the trustees has had to change, also.

“The trustees really do an awful lot of work. We don’t need rubber-stamp trustees,” he said. “We need trustees who are willing to work and who will fit different categories and provide for a lot of functions that they have not done in the past.”

Curtis also criticized the removal of one of only two women on the MMA board. With Trafton gone from the board, trustee Elizabeth Noyce will be the only woman on the board. He pointed out that the maritime industry is changing from what traditionally had been a male-dominated industry, and that the academy itself was changing from what had been a male-dominated institution.

“The board has been reduced to having just one woman, at a time when we are trying to attract more female students,” he said. “What we have now is, almost, an all-white, male board. We need a percentage of trustees who are female in order to offer the proper governance balance for the school.”

Democrats insist that Trafton made her desire to be reappointed known to Joseph Sewall, chairman of MMA trustees, and others, but McKernan spokesman Willis Lyford said Trafton did not directly communicate her desire to be reappointed to the governor and so she was not considered.

The Education Committee last week gave Moore, a former law partner of McKernan at the Portland firm of Verrill & Dana, its unanimous endorsement after a brief public hearing.

But Sen. Stephen Estes, D-Kittery, said the education panel had not known at the time of the hearing that Trafton had sought reappointment.

“I think the governor got caught with a little mud splattered on him with this particular nomination,” said Senate President Charles P. Pray, D-Millinocket.

Pray said he and House Speaker John L. Martin, D-Eagle Lake, had conferred with Moore about how to deal with his nomination.

“Until we can resolve this, it wouldn’t be fair to disclose how we might work this out,” Pray said.

Three other seats on the MMA board are due to open up in the next several months, so that might open the way for both Moore and Trafton to be seated on the board.

Curtis also has crossed swords with McKernan’s proposed cuts in state funding for MMA included as part of the governor’s spending cutbacks in response to the large budget deficit.

The academy’s budget was cut by about $800,000, Curtis said, although some of those funds have been restored in recent proposals.

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