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LGC taps N.H. Senate president as executive director; Democrats: ‘blatant conflict of interest’

Senate President Peter Bragdon spoke to the editorial board on Thursday, April 28, 2011.<br/> <br/>(Neil Blake/Monitor Staff)

Senate President Peter Bragdon spoke to the editorial board on Thursday, April 28, 2011.

(Neil Blake/Monitor Staff)

Senate President Peter Bragdon spoke to the editorial board on Thursday, April 28, 2011.<br/> <br/>(Neil Blake/Monitor Staff)

Senate President Peter Bragdon spoke to the editorial board on Thursday, April 28, 2011.

(Neil Blake/Monitor Staff)

The Local Government Center yesterday hired state Senate President Peter Bragdon as its new executive director, a move that drew criticism from state regulators and Democrats as a potential conflict of interest.

Bragdon said he won’t step down from his Senate role. He said he will likely recuse himself from bills addressing the regulation of public risk pools like those operated by the LGC, but he sees “no conflict” between the two jobs “above and beyond the typical conflicts you have with volunteer senators who are employed elsewhere.”

The Milford Republican takes over the LGC, a Concord-based quasi-governmental group that provides insurance coverage to New Hampshire governments and has been locked in a years-long battle with state regulators over its business practices, starting today.

“It looks to be a challenging endeavor, but I think I’m up to the task,” Bragdon said.

The Bureau of Securities Regulation, the state agency that regulates the LGC and has battled it in recent years, was critical of Bragdon’s surprise hiring.

“The idea that the executive director of the largest health insurer in the state would also be the Senate president, who controls the agenda and docket for the New Hampshire Senate, shows disrespect both for the institution of the Senate and the members of the LGC,” said Andru Volinsky, special counsel at the bureau.

Volinsky said George Bald, who’s been interim executive director for six months, “worked mightily to introduce the concept of transparency to the LGC, and with this single announcement, the LGC makes clear that they absolutely reject that and intentionally have been opaque in their selection process, in their nomination process of Mr. Bragdon.”

Democrats also blasted Bragdon’s new job.

State Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein, in a statement, called it a “blatant conflict of interest” that “raises serious long-term questions about his ethical judgement.”

Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen noted the LGC and its affiliated New Hampshire Municipal Association, which lobbies on behalf of towns and cities, are both active at the State House, and Bragdon “sets the agenda” for all bills in the Senate.

“I applaud him for finding a well-paying job, but I think there’s going to be some real problems with him separating the work of the Senate with the work of the LGC. . . . I wonder how you separate yourself from what is a pretty involved organization right now in many aspects of the state,” said Larsen, a Concord Democrat.

Bragdon will be paid $180,000 a year as the LGC’s executive director, on a one-year contract that can be renewed annually. Under Bald’s six-month contract as interim executive director, he was paid $90,000.

Tom Enright, the chairman of the LGC’s board, attributed Bragdon’s dual roles to the nature of New Hampshire’s citizen Legislature. (As Senate president, Bragdon makes $125 a year.)

“That’s the animal we’ve created in New Hampshire,” he said.

As for Volinsky’s criticism, Enright said, “Andy’s entitled to his opinions. I don’t think there’s a transparency issue here at all. We interviewed a number of candidates. We met openly to nominate and elect Peter.”

A legal ‘quagmire’

Bragdon, 50, is in his fifth term in the state Senate. He’s a longtime member of the Milford School Board and has experience in the insurance industry – from 2004 to 2006, he was operations manager at Comp-Sigma Ltd. in Concord, a third-party administrator for self-insured workers’ compensation trusts.

“We interviewed different people, but Peter seemed to have strong management abilities, a keen political scene, good business background, some insurance experience,” Enright said. “I’ve known him for a long time. I see nothing but good coming from Peter Bragdon.”

Bragdon said he began speaking to the LGC about the job less than a month ago.

“It kind of came out of the blue. . . . They didn’t plan it. I didn’t plan it. We just happened to bump into each other,” Bragdon said.

He takes the helm amid a long-running battle with the Bureau of Securities Regulation. In August 2012, an administrative hearing officer ordered the LGC to return improperly retained surplus money to its members and to reorganize its corporate structure.

The LGC has appealed that order to the state Supreme Court.

Bald, who took over in February after the LGC’s board ousted Executive Director Maura Carroll, indicated he wanted to reach a settlement with the bureau and drop the appeal. But the LGC announced Monday it would proceed with the appeal, after all.

“When the board hired me, they asked me to work on three things. One was to improve our transparency. . . . Second, that I would propose a reorganization, and third, that I work on withdrawing the appeal,” Bald said Monday. “I think we’ve done pretty well on the transparency side. . . . We have done a proposed reorganization and are on track to finish that Sept. 1. Unfortunately, I have not been able to come to a resolve to the issues so we could withdraw the appeal.”

The reorganization set to take effect Sept. 1 would essentially dissolve the LGC as an umbrella organization, leaving four separate nonprofits: its real estate trust, the HealthTrust, the Property-Liability Trust and the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

Bragdon will continue to run the two risk pools and the real-estate trust, Enright said. He will not run the New Hampshire Municipal Association, which shares a building with the LGC but said in a news release yesterday it’s been “a totally separate, independent organization” since January.

Dave Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire and a longtime LGC critic, questioned whether Bragdon’s role conflicts with the hearing officer’s 2012 order.

“I find the appointment interesting,” Lang said. “From my perspective, I don’t see how the appointment of one person to oversee the LGC and its risk pools complies with the hearing officer’s order, which calls for separate organizations and separate boards.”

In hiring Bragdon, Volinsky said, the LGC picked a politician rather than “a legitimate health insurance executive.” But Enright said he’s not concerned about Bragdon’s lack of experience in that field.

“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,” Enright said.

He added, “Our insurance program is running well. We have plenty of expertise in the insurance business. It’s not the insurance business where we have our issues.”

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

Legacy Comments4

I was brought up to believe any politician from Mass was a liar or crook. But with NH politics I just can't decided if they are just plain ignorant or think we all are. But alas, as with everything else in life - you get what you pay for

Getting rid of Maura Carroll and Sandal Keefe was a good start! Just get rid of the other criminals in that organization and the state should be fine. Or just shut it down altogether!

and politicians wonder why the public doesn't trust them. LGC has a very colored past and this just adds to it

I wonder what Republicans would say if Terie Norelli were to run SEIU 1984 while serving as Speaker.

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