My Turn: These state workers are serious, dedicated
“Close enough for government work.” We’ve all heard the phrase, but it is not exactly flattering to government employees and certainly not what you want to hear in an election year.
Despite the myth, we have some great workers in New Hampshire state government. I work with three of them at the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, a tiny state authority which grants money to historical and natural resource projects across our state.
This year the Legislature did not allocate any money for LCHIP to give out as grants. Depending on whom we elect to the next Legislature, the future of LCHIP is uncertain. Despite this, the small but enthusiastic staff and the board of directors (most of whom work for or are associated with our state government) continue to hold out hope that eventually the money will be available.
Even without new money to distribute, the board of directors decided to give out $500,000 that became available when several past projects worked out differently than designed. By the application deadline in early September, LCHIP had received 51 applications whose requests added up to $2.7 million. This large number of applicants shows both a huge need and passion for our state’s heritage.
Recently, LCHIP held two all-day meetings for two panels of experts to discuss all these projects. The panels consisted of eight government employees, two state legislators, a retired state historian and two private businessmen, plus the LCHIP staff. Prior to these meetings, the panelists had to pore through the 19-page applications and all the supporting documents.
The panelists certainly had their work cut out for them, but all had clearly done their homework and had become familiar with many more applications than were assigned to them. Each carefully considered the urgency of the project, the communities in which they were located, the economic impact and the unique or rare nature of each project. Each provided thoughtful insight, expertise and perspective. They shared knowledge ranging from 19th-century construction practices to the agricultural value of individual soil types.
All the panelists, government workers included, showed a deep passion for preserving state resources, whether it was an iconic colonial meetinghouse or the habitat for some threatened species. They were familiar with our communities, and many of them had visited the museums and hiking trails with their families.
Throughout the discussions, it was obvious that our state agencies frequently interact with each other and with federal agencies. A person working for the Department of Resources and Economic Development may be on a committee with someone in the Division of Historic Resources. Both are versed in the requirements of the National Register of Historic Places. Someone from Parks may share an interest in property in which Fish and Game has invested. Because many serve on multiple boards and committees, they were able to consider other sources of funding for some projects.
Not once during these meetings did these government workers bash their departments or the Legislature. They certainly understood the imperfections of the system, but rather than wasting their time blaming and criticizing, they focused on doing the best they could with the extremely limited funds.
After all the discussion and recommendations, the panelists – who had given up a day from their regular responsibilities and countless off-hours reading the applications – don’t even get to make the decisions about how the money is distributed. Their recommendations are passed on to the LCHIP board of directors, which is made up of eight representatives of interest groups (appointed by the governor and Executive Council), four legislators with diverse political leanings, and a dedicated group of (non-voting) people from the six related state departments. In late November, they will take a full day to decide how the LCHIP money is distributed. The day will include more collaborative discussions about the projects – and lots of coffee!
Outside of these meetings, these people may be polarized in their political beliefs and may differ in their priorities, but I am certain that when it comes to preserving our New Hampshire heritage, they are united. The New Hampshire gubernatorial candidates both have voiced support for the LCHIP vision, although it remains to be seen what their final commitment to the program will be. Whether or not you believe saving our state’s resources is a good use of our money, I assure you that those who are involved in the process are putting their best effort into ensuring that the money is well-spent.
In my experience, “close enough for government work” certainly does not apply to anyone associated with LCHIP. With all the state agencies involved, I am convinced that our employees are serving us well.
(Melissa Jones lives in Hopkinton.)