Rick Savage, owner of Sunday River Brewing Company, talks with customers at his restaurant after he defied an executive order that prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people and opened his establishment during the coronavirus pandemic, Friday, May 1, 2020, in Newry, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. Are you a postal worker or Mainer affected by mail delays? We’d love to hear from you.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’re not doing anything wrong,” said Judson Colby, who defended his parents against complaints they had constructed an illegal road and hosted large church gatherings. “We’re not smoking meth. We’re having a church service, people. It’s our First Amendment right.”

What we’re watching today

The state has shown when it is willing to crack down on businesses that violate coronavirus reopening rules. Gov. Janet Mills has frequently warned that any violating the reopening rules can carry a misdemeanor penalty of six months in jail and up to $1,000 fine. But in two of the most public instances where violations have occurred, her administration has instead sought measures that serve more as deterrents.

The Big Moose Inn in Millinocket was given an “imminent health hazard” citation, a top state health official said yesterday, after a wedding that exceeded the state’s current 50-person limit on indoor gatherings was linked to an outbreak of the virus. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted additional penalties could come if it violates rules again.

It would have been difficult for the administration to not act. The incident is perhaps the biggest outbreak to come from a gathering in Maine, with 32 coronavirus cases linked to the Aug. 7 wedding and reception and one person hospitalized so far. The church where the ceremony took place has not yet been cited, according to Shah. Outbreaks have mostly occurred in long-term care facilities and other workplaces.

Shah said the Big Moose Inn was the only lodging establishment or eatery that has been punished for violating gathering rules. Famously, Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel, violated other executive orders when owner Rick Savage opened dine-in service in May before Mills allowed it. The incident made national headlines as hundreds of people went to his restaurant. 

Savage briefly lost his health and liquor licenses as a result and a similar thing happened to a Freeport restaurant, but they were quickly back in compliance. Things have been reasonably quiet since. No outbreaks have been linked to the reopenings, though the Savage saga is not over. He and other business owners have appealed a federal judge’s dismissal of his lawsuit against the state

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine to use $200M in stimulus money for small business grants,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “The grants could be a relatively small lifeline to Maine businesses and nonprofits, which are likely facing billions in cumulative losses due to the pandemic so far. The program is drawn from a recommendation from the Economic Recovery Committee convened by Mills earlier this year, though that called for $350 million in businesses and nonprofit grants.”

Here’s a guide to applying for the new grants. The BDN has put together a guide to applying for these grants, which are generally open to businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 people with some exceptions. The online application portal is expected to open today.

— “Former Senate leader George Mitchell of Maine entering treatment for leukemia,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “[George] Mitchell, 87, is entering a hospital for treatment this week and he and his family declined to provide additional information about his condition, including his prognosis, [an] aide said on Thursday.”

It is Mitchell’s second battle with cancer and comes as he has stepped back from public life over the last year. Mitchell was treated for prostate cancer in 2007 and retired — unannounced — from a high-profile position at the Washington-based law firm of DLA Piper late last year. Last August, the former Maine senator was named in unsealed court documents in connection with sex-trafficking allegations against the late, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. He denied any misconduct and said he never knew of Epstein’s inappropriate conduct.

— “Fryeburg police chief who resigned lied to investigators, documents show,” Callie Ferguson, BDN: “The former Fryeburg police chief lied to a Maine State Police trooper during a 2018 criminal investigation, impairing his ability to testify as a credible witness in court and therefore perform the duties of his job. But he continued as chief until he faced a personnel investigation for a separate instance of alleged misconduct this spring and resigned last month, according to public documents and interviews with town and police union officials.”

Postal unions demand changes

Local postal unions in Maine are asking for $25 billion in funds, an end to a postal retiree health care pre-funding mandate and a stop to recent operational changes. Those demands come as the U.S. House of Representatives is convening this weekend to hear from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and consider legislation to support the embattled agency.

The unions held a news conference Thursday following a worker alleged earlier this week that two mail sorting machines were removed from the Scarborough processing center. Operational changes to the postal service have led to delays across the state and raised concerns about the agency’s ability to handle mail-in and absentee voting this fall, though postal workers and union officials said Thursday that they have the capacity to handle ballots.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...