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Grant Bosse

Grant Bosse: Legislative ethics going down a slippery slope

A rider passes over a side trail with a view of Mt. Lafayette while riding the new Mittersill double chair lift on Cannon Mountain; Monday, January 17, 2011. The lift is the first to operate on the mountain since Mittersill ski area closed in 1984.
(Alexander Cohn/Monitor Staff)

A rider passes over a side trail with a view of Mt. Lafayette while riding the new Mittersill double chair lift on Cannon Mountain; Monday, January 17, 2011. The lift is the first to operate on the mountain since Mittersill ski area closed in 1984. (Alexander Cohn/Monitor Staff)

Some New Hampshire lawmakers would like their free skiing back. For years, state-owned Cannon Mountain Ski Area gave away free passes for all New Hampshire House and Senate members. Two years, the Legislative Ethics Committee put a stop to the freebies, and now some our of elected representatives are fighting to restore their perks.

The ethics code for the New Hampshire Legislature bars lawmakers from accepting gifts valued at more than $25. In 2011, Rep. Edmond Gionet wrote to the Legislative Ethics Committee asking whether he could accept an offer from Cannon Mountain general manager for free skiing. House and members could get a free lift ticket for themselves and a guest any day that Cannon was open all winter. The public pays $68 for a day ticket, $45 for seniors 65 or over.

In the Legislative Ethics Committee Advisory Opinion, attorney Martin Gross writes that the free lift tickets meet the definition of a gift barred by ethics rules, unless the Legislature carves out a specific exemption for them.

This year, Berlin Democratic Gary Coulombe has introduced a bill carving out just such an exemption. Under HB 514, which has Republican and Democratic cosponsors, House and Senate members would be allowed to accept free passes to Cannon from the director of parks and recreation.

Supporters of the give-away argue that lawmakers can learn more about Cannon’s operations if they ski on the mountain, and that since they only get paid $100 a year, a couple of small perks for their service is no big deal. Neither argument is persuasive.

If free skiing educates lawmakers on the Parks Division, maybe we should give them free booze at the Hooksett rest stops in provide insight on the Liquor Commission. Maybe paying their car registration will help them manage the DMV. If they really wanted to learn about Cannon, they’d pay the same price we do in order to compare it to its commercial competitors.

Free lift tickets aren’t a big deal, but they are a conflict of interest. Elected officials should not be receiving gifts from organizations seeking their financial support, even if they are from another branch of government.

Since 1999, we’ve leased out operations at Mount Sunapee Ski Area and used the proceeds to pay for capital improvements

at Cannon. Those projects have helped turn Cannon around, and the mountain actually turned an operational profit for the first time two years ago. It lost money again last winter. Since 1999, we’ve poured more than $9.2 million in public money into Cannon Mountain. If we leased out Cannon operations like Sunapee, those subsidies could go to New Hampshire’s smaller, unfunded state parks.

We would never put up with lawmakers getting free passes at Cranmore or Bretton Woods. Favors from a state agency, dependant on the budget they write, is an even bigger conflict.

If we do write a Cannon exemption into our ethics laws, we should keep track of who uses it. Before the Ethics Committee put a stop to the practice, the Parks Division didn’t record which lawmakers skied for free, or who they brought as guests. They could show up on the mountain, flash their member badge, and get waved onto the chair lift. Such lax record keeping flouts New Hampshire’s Right To Know Law, and provides a huge window to abuse the system.

For years, UNH handed out free hockey tickets at the State House. When I made a Right To Know request to find out who got the tickets, and how much it costs, I was told that the university had stopped giving tickets away and hadn’t kept any records of who had received them.

In addition to their lavish $100 annual salary and mileage for travel to and from the State House, House and Senate members also get free passage through New Hampshire toll booths. They used to just point to their legislative plate, and the toll booth operator would wave them through. Now, many receive a state EZ Pass transponder that triggers a green light, but doesn’t charge their account.

When New Hampshire adopted EZ Pass, privacy advocates rightly worried about the state misusing driver data, and built a rock solid firewall protecting all EZ Pass transponder information from public scrutiny. That well-meaning provision now shields lawmakers and state employees from public oversight. Making this information public, solely on state-owned transponders, would ensure they are only being used for state business. I’ve been assured by DOT that these transponders only work in New Hampshire, so at least we know that no one is cruising down the Jersey Turnpike on our dime.

I don’t begrudge state representatives a few small perks. My father served in the House, and I worked there under Speakers Donna Sytek and Gene Chandler. I have great respect for the traditions on the House, and the dedication shown by most of our elected representatives. But they are there to serve us, and we have a right to know about any special treatment they receive.

(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy.)

Just remember, as taxes increase across the site - whilst services are cut - we're subsidizing a major ski area! We the people bought the most expensive double chairlift in New England ski history. As noted by another poster, that lift operated 5.5 days last season and 0 days so far this season. Now we're finding out that the government management at Cannon, as well as other interested parties, are hoping to turn that chairlift and the Mittersill complex into a semi-private racing facility, with our tax dollars subsidizing the operations. http://www.taxpayersforcannon.com has more information, as well as maps and financial documents.

Grant, Is this what you and Charlie are down to? Next I expect to see you dumpster diving up an Hazen Drive to see if anyone who works there threw their home trash away. Get real, If the people in the Legislature get to enjoy something like Sunapee or Cannon they in my opinion will be better informed and interested in any legislation concerning our recreation and parks. Why don't you and Charlie spend some time reviewing and revising the Josiah Bartlett Center employee hand book, even involve Billy in the project. Think of all the wonderful meetings and oversight you can have. That will keep you all busy and happy. ~

I don't think that we ought to ignore the abuses of state employees, using state equipment to blog during work hours, nepotism, single tasking and wasting money on programs like Safe Routes to School. Legislators, our representatives in Washington, our President all need to set an example and lead by that example......unfortunately, instead, they feel as if they are above the people whom elected them and whom they represent.

Look in the mirror Itsa. Are you interested in getting up at 3 am and working 12 hrs to keeps roads clear?

Not sure what your point is Tillie. Unless it is that you disagree with ITSA about folks being held accountable. And I am sure that the folks who work for DOT know that getting up at 3am is part of the job description. And I also assume they make overtime pay also. And I do believe that many think they are above us and should be allowed to do what they want. Apply that logic to all is the only fact that is valid.

Not sure what you are asking Tillie. On Tuesday mornings, I rise at 2AM, drive to Philadelphia and arrive at the office at 10AM, I leave the office generally around 6PM. Let's see, that is a 16 hour day and I do it every week. Other days I work 8AM to 8PM, regular twelve hour days. So I am not afraid of 12 hours worth of work. In fact, I will be working 12 hours per day, 6 days straight at the end of this month on a new project on the West Coast. Now, if you are suggesting that we should give state employees a break from accountability, well, I say no to that.

Good idea. Where could I get some heavy duty work gloves and disinfectant? While we're at it, let's let State Reps send their kids to UNH for free. They'd be more interested in higher education. That wouldn't be a conflict of interest or anything.

gee not only do they make laws that benefit only themselves they get to ski free and go thru the ez pass. What a life!

As long as O'Brian doesn't get one one, I'm all for it.

Cannon is in the hole. Their 3 million dollar chair lift ran for 5 days in the last 21 months. They have many problems including the fact they cannot make snow from outdated machines, and they also have issues with employees. Last I heard, they were 7.7 million in the hole total. By all means lets give out free tickets.

Grant Bosse is again 100% right and NH is fortunate to have Grant and his associates at the Bartlett Center

Cannon Mountain is a unique treasure for NH and has a long history of legislative support. The aerial tramway was an investment by the state government that has paid huge dividends in tourist revenue. Giving free passes to state parks including ski passes is not some huge ethics violation. This is a tradition that should be continued. Grant once again is straining the gnat and swallowing the camel. This is not big oil or the NRA buying votes. This is our legislature enjoying and supporting one of our state treasures that makes NH what it is. LET THE REPS SKI !

I thought I made it clear that free lift tickets aren’t a big deal when I wrote "Free lift tickets aren’t a big deal". Sorry if that was confusing. It is a conflict of interest that should at the very least be disclosed. And your contention that Cannon is doing anything other than draining funds from the Treasury is simply untrue.

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