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N.H. Democrats say questions remain about timing of Bragdon’s Senate work, hiring at LGC

Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican,  sits for an editorial review board at the Monitor; Thursday, February 24, 2011.

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, sits for an editorial review board at the Monitor; Thursday, February 24, 2011. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Senate President Peter Bragdon privately sought advice from another senator about the prospect of his taking a job at the Local Government Center, three days before he formally named her to a committee studying whether the LGC’s recent legal troubles should lead to changes in state law, according to newly released emails.

But Bragdon, who became the LGC’s executive director last week, said he actually decided to appoint Sen. Jeanie Forrester to the committee nearly a week before he was first approached by the LGC about the job.

“Unfortunately, the timing of that conversation will feed into speculation that other things were going on,” Bragdon wrote yesterday in an email to the Monitor. “I can’t change the timing of things, so all I can do is tell what the conversation was with Sen. Forrester. As you can see by the context of all the conversations, making sure things were handled properly was always a concern. The issue of the study committee did not come up.”

Bragdon, a Milford Republican, initially said he would remain Senate president after taking over the LGC, but later announced he would step down to minimize any potential conflicts of interest involving the embattled group. He plans to remain in the Senate.

Timeline questions

Criticism from the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which filed a request under the Right-to-Know law for the emails released Wednesday night by the LGC, has in part centered on Bragdon’s appointment of Forrester to the Legislature’s LGC study committee.

Bragdon told the Telegraph of Nashua this week he decided July 5 to appoint Forrester, a Meredith Republican, to the committee. That was the day the bill creating the committee reached his desk for a signature, a formality as it went to Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Hassan, a Democrat, signed the bill into law July 10, and Bragdon sent a letter formally appointing Forrester to the committee July 19.

But according to the emails released this week, Bragdon was first approached about the LGC job July 11, and he discussed it with Forrester during a telephone call July 16.

“Her reaction could not have been more positive to the idea,” he wrote in an email the same day to George Bald, the LGC’s interim executive director.

Bragdon, who was hired by the LGC on Aug. 13 and started work the next day, also consulted with the Senate’s chief of staff, Jay Flanders, about the potential for conflicts of interest. Bragdon said he spoke to Forrester because of her municipal experience; she used to be town administrator in Tuftonboro and New Durham.

Forrester said she doesn’t recall the exact date, but that Bragdon asked her to serve on the LGC committee in a phone call. That must have been sometime before July 16, she said, since he called her later about the LGC job.

“When Sen. Bragdon called me and asked me to be on the committee, I had no knowledge, at that time, about him talking to LGC about a job,” Forrester said.

Later, she said, he called and said “that the LGC people talked to him about a job and he asked me what I thought about it, and I said he would be a great candidate. But that happened after he asked me to be on the committee.”

Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said in a statement yesterday that the emails released this week raise serious questions about influence and ethics.

“Forrester and Bragdon owe the people of New Hampshire a full explanation – and this time an honest one – of all their recent conversations about the LGC. . . . The more we learn about Bragdon, Forrester and the LGC the more concerns are raised and the more serious those concerns become,” he said.

Forrester said Bragdon is “a very ethical person,” and added, “It’s disappointing that they’re trying to make this into an issue, but there’s nothing there.”

‘You might be criticized’

The LGC, which operates public risk pools that provide insurance coverage to New Hampshire governments, has been locked in a years-long battle with its regulator, the state Bureau of Securities Regulation, over its corporate structure and business practices.

The case is now pending before the state Supreme Court. The five-member study committee that includes Forrester was created to review that case’s August 2012 administrative order and “study potential changes to RSA 5-B,” the state law governing public risk pools.

Bald said he is “unaware of any discussions between LGC and Sen. Bragdon or anyone in the Senate” about appointments to that panel, in a letter dated Wednesday and addressed to Kirstein, who had made the party’s Right-to-Know request.

Bald also wrote the LGC decided not to conduct a national search for a new executive director due to its ongoing legal issues. Instead, the heads of various LGC boards “brainstormed” about five potential candidates and instructed him to approach them.

One was Bragdon.

The potential for conflicts of interest surfaced during the LGC’s internal discussions about Bragdon, who as president not only votes on bills but sets the agenda and tone for the Senate.

After meeting with the chairmen of various LGC boards, Bald wrote in a July 12 email to Bragdon, “There was also concern that you might be criticized that there would be conflicts of interest, i.e. NHMA does advocacy before the Legislature.”

(The New Hampshire Municipal Association was part of the LGC and still shares a building with the group, but formally split off this year. Bragdon’s new job doesn’t include running the association.)

Bragdon’s emails to Bald echo what he said publicly after his hiring was announced: In an all-volunteer Legislature, lawmakers often have day jobs and can manage conflicts by recusing themselves when necessary.

“Sometimes those other jobs and interests overlap with legislative duties and (there) are ways to deal with that,” Bragdon wrote July 16.

But last Friday, when he announced his decision to step down as Senate president, Bragdon acknowledged, “There is merit in that argument that the office of Senate president has many more challenges.”

Bragdon is set to step down as Senate president Sept. 3, when a new president will be elected. He’ll remain in the Senate, which has a 13-11 Republican majority.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Yikes this sounds BAD.

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