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Mills administration held secret meetings with lawmakers to discuss coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic

The Press Herald reports officials briefed Maine lawmakers privately and without public notice multiple times, in apparent violation of Maine law.

MAINE, USA — Gov. Janet Mills's administration has been secretly meeting with lawmakers and others in the past few weeks to discuss the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, the Press Herald reports.

Possibly breaking Maine’s open meetings and public records laws, Mills and members of her cabinet had multiple online or telephone briefings with large groups of state lawmakers, divided by party affiliation, as they attempted to answer questions and concerns about the spread of the virus.

The administration has since canceled upcoming meetings with lawmakers to discuss the virus with the Maine CDC and Department of Labor once the Press Herald questioned their legality Thursday. The secret meetings violate the spirit and possibly the letter of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, which protects the right of citizens to know what their government is doing,

“The coronavirus has temporarily shifted the way that government business is conducted, but the Administration maintains its commitment to transparency,” Lindsay Crete, Mills’ press secretary, wrote to the Press Herald. “The Administration is temporarily postponing any further meetings until it is able to work with the Legislature to determine the best process to respond to their questions in a transparent way as we all work to adapt to changes driven by the virus.”

Crete informed the Press Herald on nine remote meetings conducted by administration officials with lawmakers between March 20 and April 15. Mills’ staff did not document or record the meetings, and the administration did not give any public notice of the meetings or allow public access as required by law.

“However, the information provided during those briefings is information that the Administration also attempts to provide publicly through daily media briefings, news interviews, or responses to questions from members of the media,” Crete wrote in a response to the Press Herald. 

Crete did not answer the reason Mills is changing the way remote meetings with lawmakers are conducted since the previous meetings violated state law.

Read more on this story here.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available. 

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: coronavirus

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