Commission Minutes

Public Comment : None.

Present:  Luke Shorty (Chair), F. Celeste Branham, Thomas Meuser (online), Kelly Day (online), Becky Hayes-Boober (online), Julia Fiori (online), Necole Janczura (online), Janet May (online), Diane Lebson (online), Matt Williams (online), Michael Williams (online), Jenifer Tilton-Flood (online), Susan Cheesman (ex officio, online), Will Sedlack (online), Susan Wiggin (online), Chelsey Fortin-Trimble (online).

Ariel Ricci, Executive Director, Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations.  
Rae Sage, Policy Coordinator, Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations.

Call to Order: Luke Shorty, Chair, called the meeting to order at 10:04 a.m.

Welcome, Announcements, Agenda Adjustments (Shorty): Reminder that the Governor’s Service Award event will be held on 5/5/2024. Notice that Jennifer Burk of Maine Credit Union League has been nominated by the Governor to sit on the Commission; her paperwork is pending processing. Shorty reminded Commissioners of the protocols for hybrid business meetings, conflict of interest rules, publication of the 2023 Annual Report to the Legislature, and that Pam Proulx-Curry will represent the Commission at the ASC Annual Leadership Convening, Feb 27-29, 2024. 

There were no additions or deletions to the consent agenda.

Consent Agenda: MOVED by Branham to approve the consent agenda. SECONDED by Hayes-Boober. Vote on the motion: In favor–Shorty, Branham, Meuser, Day, Hayes-Boober, Fiori, Janczura, May, Lebson, Matt Williams, Michael Williams, Tilton-Flood, Sedlack, Susan Wiggin, Chelsey Fortin-Trimble. Opposed–none. Motion passed. 

Items approved by the motion: the Commission meeting minutes for December 15, 2024; the reports of the Executive Committee meetings for January 2, 2024 and February, 6, 2024; the report of the Climate Corps Task Force meeting for January 17, 2024; and the reports of the Grant Selection and Performance Task Force for January 12, 2024 and February 9, 2024.

Planning and Future Initiatives  
A.    Maine Volunteer Foundation update (Branham): Branham, the liaison to the MVF board, noted that the current account is at $29,250.90 and that board members are still trying to fill empty seats on the MVF board. Fundraising has been more successful in recent months than in years past. The board also needs to become self-sufficient with regards to online accounts and storage.

B. Commission Ambassadors to Maine National Service programs (Various):

  • Branham visited GPCOG and assisted with building insulating window inserts. She was impressed with the capable young women assembled by Julia Breul to service the greater Portland area.
  • Lebson visited Trekkers and met Executive Director Amie Hutchinson and her AmeriCorps members.
  • Meuser visited Maine Campus Compact at its St. Joseph’s College location and discovered possible synergies for future service opportunities.
  • Matt Williams visited Climate Corps members in Ellsworth and talked to them about their public outreach programming, such as an upcoming podcast that deals with climate resilience in Maine.

C. Exploring Common Ground: Briefing from the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations (Ricci, Sage):
The Legislature established the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations in 2019, but now permanent staff and consistent operations (as of the last eight months) are now in place. The group researches racial disparities in Maine and conducts public education in addition to advising and consulting with the three branches of state government. In the future, the group would like to propose legislation related to equity and inclusion as part of its larger mission to dismantle systemic racism in Maine.

Policy activities at the moment consisting of gathering testimony and supporting relevant legislation and campaigns around of discriminatory issues around housing, African-American and Wabanaki studies, transportation, and food insecurity. Other ongoing projects include setting up social capital grants, youth empowerment mini-awards, and place justice (renaming places with racist designations) through location names and GIS maps.

Focus on Mission Responsibilities
A. Office of Inspector General Investigation of Axiom:
Report of Findings. Recommendation on action from Executive Committee (Shorty):
The group discussed the 1/3/24 correspondence from the AmeriCorps federal agency that summarized the OIG investigation into Axion Education and Training Center’s former AmeriCorps grant. This former program was under investigation for alleged misuse of funds and making false statements about match funds, organizational information, and allocation of staff and member time on its application and progress reports for its EDA grant. Recommendations from OIG are to disallow all AmeriCorps funds allocated this project and that Volunteer Maine’s future trainings for grantees teach that grantees must inform the Commission immediately if issues with personnel or funding arise and that programs must begin after grant funds are received. Volunteer Maine’s response to the AmeriCorps agency on 1/18/24 addressed how it currently supports grantees through training that covers these subject areas.

MOVED by Branham that the OIG investigation findings into the AmeriCorps program operated by Axiom Education and Training Center be referred to Maine’s Attorney General, Aaron Frey, for review and determination of whether any actions by the grantee would be considered criminal under Maine statutes. SECONDED by Tilton-Flood.

Vote on the motion: In favor–Shorty, Branham, Day, Hayes-Boober, Fiori, Janczura, May, Lebson, Matt Williams, Michael Williams, Tilton-Flood, Sedlack, Susan Wiggin, Chelsey Fortin-Trimble. Opposed–none. Abstain–Meuser. Motion passed. 

 B. Status update on Financial Processing and Report Filings, Commission’s supplemental budget request, Legislative action impacting Commission’s change in fiscal agent (Crofton, Shorty):
DAFS Service Center has made some progress on payments after the Commission’s letter to Executive Branch leadership. It is still lagging since $134,000 in reimbursement is still pending to Maine Conservation Corps and roughly $57,000 is still pending payment in other operational expenses. The Commission discussed sending another letter since the ongoing payment issues persist. The Commission acknowledged the generous assistance from DOE Finance Director Nicole Denis, who has spent hours each day assisting staff through the complications that have arisen from financial data in light of recent difficulties with DAFS. Shorty will begin drafting a second letter about the payment processing issue and share it with Executive Committee when it is ready.

The Commission requested that the DOE supplemental budget increase the Commission’s personnel capacity by reallocating funds from “Other” to “Salary” in order to retain the Climate Corps Coordinator position after December 2024. Additional funding to change the staff’s Secretary Specialist position from part-time to full-time was recently denied; it will continue to be a composite full-time position shared equally between Volunteer Maine and DOE School Facilities. News of whether or not there is potential to fund the Program Officer for Volunteer Initiatives position is still pending on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

Representatives from DOE and GOPIF on Transition Task Force will assist with recruiting a new Executive Director (after Crofton retires in December 2024). There may be overlap between Crofton’s final months at Volunteer Maine and the process of preparing the replacement E.D. to fully assume leadership responsibilities.

Business Reports 
A. Public Policy
(Tilton-Flood): Focus on targeted messaging to community leaders and municipalities about how funding L.D. 666 is necessary for the Commission to continue its work; hopefully, they will advocate the bill to the Legislature.

B.  Communications Task Force (Janczura): The Governor’s Service Award event on 5/5/24 will include special recognition for responders to the recent Lewiston mass shooting tragedy. The task force is seeking sponsorship opportunities for the event and welcomes input from other Commissioners on this process. Sponsorship options range from $250 to $5,000 this year.

C. Executive Committee (Shorty): It was agreed to hold for March the briefing on analysis of Commission Strengths Assessment. The briefing is important but issues today need additional time. 

D. Maine Service Fellows Advisory Task Force (Branham): GOPIF included Service Fellows in a funding application. There would be five service fellows for four years to assist towns in Maine with grant-funded community resilience projects.

E. Climate Corps Task Force (Tilton-Flood): A new RFA for youth climate engagement has been posted.

F. DEI Task Force (Branham): The task force is looking to arrange a service workshop between Wabanaki REACH and the Commission. Progress is underway on preparing a land acknowledgement statement for the Commission.

G. Excellence and Expertise Task Force (Ashmore): The task force worked on energizing the resources seen in the Maine Volunteer Managers Network by developing a mentoring system, discussion board options, conference planning for Fall 2024, and surveys to members of the network.

H. AmeriCorps federal agency update (Cheesman): Upcoming NOFO deadlines: 3/28/24 is deadline for AmeriCorps concept papers, AmeriCorps NCCC is deadline for 4/29/2024. Staffing changes to the agency’s northeast region: portfolio managers brought on to administer ARP funds will be departing soon as their temporary positions end throughout this year. 

I. Commission Staff Reports (Various staff): Reports have been posted. There were no requests for clarifications.

Business Wrap-Up (Shorty):  MOVED by Branham to adjourn the business meeting. SECONDED by Matt Williams.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:49 p.m.