Editorial: Right call from Bragdon; more work for LGC
That was fast. Just three days after the embattled Local Government Center announced that Peter Bragdon would be its new executive director, Bragdon announced his resignation as president of the New Hampshire Senate, rightly concluding that he could not in good conscience hold both posts simultaneously.
The Concord-based LGC operates enormous public risk pools that provide insurance coverage to municipal governments across the state. It has been engaged in a high-stakes legal battle with state regulators for years; the latest chapter is soon to be played out before the state Supreme Court. The Senate president controls the agenda of the Senate and plays a key role in setting the budgets of state agencies, including the regulators overseeing the LGC. Just last month, Bragdon named a Senate colleague to a study committee investigating the state law governing risk pools like the ones the LGC operates. Clearly the possibilities for conflicts, real and perceived, were myriad. Could the same person run the state Senate and simultaneously fight the state in court? Could the LGC’s regulators get fair treatment by Senate budget-writers? Would the risk pool study committee be able to truly work independently? Would lobbyists for the LGC or the New Hampshire Municipal Association get an extra-sympathetic ear from the Senate?
Bragdon’s brief dual roles created a roar of protests, which his resignation will quell – at least those concerning the reputation and operation of the Senate itself. But the episode raised real questions about the actions of the LGC itself, and, once again, the organization will need to work hard to restore the trust of the taxpayers whose money finances the organization.
What made Bragdon the best to lead the LGC? Was it his insurance expertise? He worked for just two years as operations manager at Comp-Sigma Limited in Concord, a third-party administrator for self-insured workers’ compensation trusts. More likely, it was his powerful political perch at the State House – for a $180,000 salary, the LGC appeared to be buying itself access to power and the hopes of better relations with state government. What exactly was the LGC board hoping to get for its money?
The Local Government Center’s fight with the state is a complicated affair. The state Bureau of Securities Regulation accused the LGC of failing to return surplus money from its pooled risk programs to its member towns and school districts; improperly transferring assets; and improperly spending money for purposes beyond those permitted by state law. The LGC said it was building up its reserves to protect against unforeseen disaster and argued state law does not specify how much surplus is too much. It was ordered last year to refund $50 million as a result of financial mismanagement that a hearing officer called an “insult” to those municipalities.
Putting aside the merits of the state’s case, the LGC has over many, many months appeared secretive and stubborn. It has given the impression that the only problems it had to solve were matters of public relations – rather than projecting a true desire to operate with transparency and in the best interest of its members. The Bragdon affair has only underscored that perception.