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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.

Legacy Comments3

The below is from the Legislative Ethics Guidelines. It would seem by accepting this $180,000 job to influence the state's relations with the LGC Sen. Bragdon is engaging in prohibited activities. 4 PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES. I. Legislators shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept anything of value from another for themselves or other persons, if the legislator receives such thing of value: (a) Knowing or believing the other's purpose to be the influencing of an action, decision, opinion, recommendation, or other official activity. (b) Knowing or believing that the giver is or is likely to become subject to or interested in any matter or action pending before or contemplated by the legislator or the General Court. (c) In return for advice or other assistance relating to a legislator's official activities. (d) In return for introducing legislation, testifying before any legislative committee or state agency, voting in committee or in House or Senate session, or otherwise participating in, influencing, or attempting to influence any decision of the legislature, county delegation or any state agency. (e) In return for an endorsement, nomination, appointment, approval or disapproval of any person for a position as, or advancement of, a public servant. (f) In return for having given a decision, opinion, recommendation, nomination, vote, or other official activity.

Bragdon did the right thing and that is not news. For a democrat like Filner, Weiner, Spitzer or Jackson to do the right thing would be news

The Monitor has it wrong. Bragdon must resign from the Senate. Monday’s Monitor editorial asks: “What made Bragdon the best to lead the LGC?” All the editorial writer needed to do to get an answer was to read their own Ben Leubsdorf’s August 14, article in which he quotes Thomas Enright the LGC’s chair. “He’s trying to work us out of a quagmire and allow us to have a better relationship with our regulator. That’s what we’re focused on,” And this is what Andrew Volinsky the lead attorney for the Bureau of Securities Regulation had to say: the LGC picked a politician rather than “a legitimate health insurance executive.” Again as quoted in the Leubsdorf article. It is clear from Enright's statement that Bragdon was hired to smooth the LGC's relationship with the Secretary of State's office and the Bureau of Securities Regulation (BSR). Not for his insurance competence. The second issue that remains unresolved is why Bragdon went to the Senate’s council and not the legislature’s Ethic Committee. Another conflict, as Senate Council Richard Lehmann is representing the ten towns suing the LGC. Here's a probable scenario. The LGC wants changes to state laws that effects their business. Does anybody believe that Bragdon won’t use his inside knowledge of the Senate in his role as executive director to craft a remedy for the LGC's problems. Bragdon still has real and perceived conflicts. He has two choices. Resign from the senate or resign your position with the LGC - Allan Herschlag

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