Inside game

 Politics and Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  June 25, 2014

The University of Maine System (motto: You Get Less Stoopid If You Gradooate … Uh … Grudulate … Uh … Get Outta Here) has image issues. A lot of people think it has a bloated bureaucracy, campuses rife with waste and duplication of programs, and lousy Division I basketball teams.

Obviously, what’s needed is a public relations expert. Preferably one who still has at least two years of NCAA eligibility and a devastating outside shot.

Instead, UMS hired Dan Demeritt, who — in spite of dropping a lot of weight since his days as chief spokesman for Republican Governor Paul LePage — still looks less like a shooting guard and more like an interior lineman with steroid issues.

The university system’s decision to add Demeritt to its roster at a salary of $125,000 a year generated criticism because it was done by ignoring normal hiring procedures and came at a time when the system is facing budget shortfalls, program cuts, and layoffs.
Demeritt is going to have to hit a lot of three-pointers to make up for all that negative reaction.

But in reality, there’s nothing unusual about UMS spending money it doesn’t have to recruit politically connected bureaucrats. The only difference between previous cases and Demeritt is he’s a member of the GOP and the earlier hires were all Democrats.

In 2012, an investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting found that UMS had waived its rules to provide jobs to several former members of the administration of former Democratic Governor John Baldacci. For instance, in 2008, Rebecca Wyke, who served as Baldacci’s commissioner of administration and financial services, came on board as vice chancellor for finance and administration at a salary of $165,000. This year, at the height of a financial crisis, Wyke was given a $40,000 raise to convince her not to accept an out-of-state job offer.

Talk about out of bounds.

Ryan Low, who took over for Wyke after she left the Baldacci administration, followed her lead by jumping to the position as vice president of finance at the university’s Farmington campus (salary: $108,000). He’s since become UMS’s chief lobbyist.

Low’s successor as commissioner, Ellen Schneiter, wandered down what had become a well-trodden path when she became vice president for finance at the Augusta campus (salary: $110,000).

Other refugees from the State House included Richard Thompson, formerly Baldacci’s chief information officer, now holding the same title with the university system for $160,000 annually; Elaine Clark, who moved from overseeing facilities for the state to doing the same for the flagship Orono campus at $121,000 per annum; and Chip Gavin, the ex-director of the Bureau of General Services and now the head of facilities for the university system at a mere $97,000.

The jobs Gavin, Clark, and Schneiter got were advertised and there were several applicants, but the others were hustled into their offices without any public notice.

UMS’s practice of throwing cash around isn’t limited to ex-political appointees. In 2012, in the midst of yet another fiscal crisis, the Portland Press Herald discovered the system had given out more than $7 million in raises to about 1,000 employees, boosting their salaries by anywhere from 5 to 63 percent. For instance, at a time when regular employees hadn’t had a pay increase in three years, the executive director of university outreach at the University of Southern Maine saw her paycheck grow by $34,500 a year.

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