Former Cumberland legislator says he decided to decline nod for state conservation panel

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CUMBERLAND — Former state legislator Mike Timmons on Monday said he asked Gov. Paul LePage to withdraw his nomination to the Lands for Maine’s Future board.

LePage on Jan. 27 sent Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, a three-sentence letter informing her that he was withdrawing Timmons’ nomination. LePage cited a state statute regarding confirmation of appointments.

The governor’s nomination of Timmons had been scheduled for confirmation Tuesday by the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Timmons said in an interview. If approved, the appointment to the three-year seat would have gone to the state Senate, according to Timmons, a Republican who represented House District 45 for two years before his defeat last year by Democrat Dale Denno.

Timmons drew the ire of local officials for not voting to override LePage’s veto of Land for Maine’s Future funds, $225,000 of which was dedicated to the local purchase and preservation of the Knight’s Pond parcel in Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

“I have decided that I’m not going to be a member of the Lands for Maine’s Future (board),” Timmons said Monday.

“To go to the (committee) tomorrow, and have the environmental groups, and all the others, coming forward and having negative things to say,” based on criticism he had received regarding the Knight’s Pond matter, “isn’t something that I wanted to continue,” he said. “I want it to end, and it did, because I called the governor and asked him to withdraw my name.”

“He isn’t happy about any of it, I don’t think … because I think he truly wanted me to serve,” Timmons added.

“Being a friend of the governor in this case, in the long run, I believe I would have been a positive force moving forward for (LMF),” he said, noting his experience with the Maine Harness Racing Commission and Cumberland Fair.

Timmons was criticized by town officials in 2015 after not voting to override LePage’s veto of the release of the LMF bonds for the Cumberland-North Yarmouth Knight’s Pond/Blueberry Hill preservation project. He was one of six lawmakers to switch positions and uphold the veto.

Timmons on last week said the Knight’s Pond situation has “been resolved; the bond’s been dissolved, the check’s been delivered.”

He said his qualifications for the LMF board include a decade as president of the Cumberland Fair, where he collaborated with officials from the state forestry, agriculture, and fisheries departments.

“There isn’t anything in (the LMF job) description that I do not feel I’m not qualified for,” Timmons said a week ago.

The Cumberland Town Council in February 2015 approved a contribution of $300,000 from its Open Space Acquisition reserves for Knight’s Pond. North Yarmouth voters two months later approved spending up to $100,000 from the town’s Future Lands fund for the $1.13 million acquisition and preservation of the mostly-forested land.

More than $460,000 in other funds came from foundations and private individuals. But an additional $225,000 grant from the LMF program, necessary in completing the purchase, was in jeopardy in 2015 after LePage’s decision not to release voter-approved bonds earmarked for LMF conservation projects.

With those funds still in doubt, the two land trusts voted in September 2015 to advance the necessary funding so the property could be purchased. The trusts provided a bridge loan to complete the funding, and a ceremony to celebrate the preserve’s opening was held in autumn 2015.

LePage told the Legislature in December 2015 that he would allow $5 million in LMF bonds to be issued.

“I didn’t intentionally, in any stretch of the imagination, do anything other than try to get the bond – and the Knight’s project – passed, period,” Timmons said in an interview last October.

As the legislative session came to an end in June 2015, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, introduced a bill to remove LePage from the bonding process. The Legislature passed that bill, and LePage vetoed it June 30. The Senate voted the next month to override the veto, but the vote to override failed to reach a two-thirds majority in the House, 91-52.

Timmons noted in a candidates’ forum last October that Katz’s bill would have taken authority in handling LMF finances away from LePage.

“If that had happened, this item would be in court, and no check would have been issued,” Timmons noted.

In an October 2016 letter to The Forecaster, LePage said Timmons was “the only reason” for the Knight’s Pond project’s success.

“He is the only member of the Legislature who worked night and day to navigate this project through the complicated process,” LePage wrote. “Mike single-handedly convinced me and the administration the project was worthy, financially sound and fully supported by the community.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.