Committee Finds No Improper Influence in UMaine Energy Contract Process

Feb 9, 2018

An audit committee for the University of Maine's Board of Trustees is strongly defending university leadership and the process it used to award negotiating rights for a big new energy contract. The committee acted after a newspaper report raised questions about the possible role of insider information in the award.

Earlier this week the Portland Press Herald published what it called “secret” recordings suggesting that a university economic development official, Jake Ward, had coached Con Edison Solutions before it was awarded the negotiating rights to supply energy to the Orono campus.

After hearing the results of an internal investigation by the university's counsel, the audit committee determined that Ward had been entirely insulated from the energy procurement process.

“We are suggesting that there is no evidence to support that the actions alleged to have occurred by Jake Ward occurred,” says Michele Hood, CEO of Eastern Maine Healthcare systems and chair of the audit committee.

Questions have also been raised about ties between an Old Town engineering firm that might participate in the Con Ed project, the J.W Sewall company, and its former president, James Page, who is now the university's chancellor.

Page told Maine Public Radio that he still has financial ties with Sewall, which he says he disclosed to the university when he was hired in 2012. He says he has recused himself from the campus energy procurement work.

University counsel James Thelen later said Page has only one remaining tie to the company.

“He had signed a personal guarantee for some debt that Sewall had taken on, and it's our understanding that that debt is not fully discharged yet,” says Thelen.

In its resolution defending the bid process, the audit committee did call on the chancellor to continue to recuse himself, should a final contract proposal include work to be done by Sewall.