Aide resigns as mileage issue breaks

Last modified: 5/16/2012 12:00:00 AM
Bob Mead has resigned from the House Majority Office following a Monitor report that he billed taxpayers for trips to Republican events where he sought to recruit House candidates.

"It is our unfortunate task to let you know that, due to a difference over House policy, Bob Mead left his position in the Majority Office this afternoon," read a joint email Monday evening from House Speaker Bill O'Brien and Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt to fellow lawmakers. "We want to thank Bob for his hard work and dedication to improving the State and to the Republican cause, both as a state representative and as a legislative employee. We wish him the best in his future endeavors."

Mead, a former state representative from Mont Vernon, served last year as chief of staff to House Speaker Bill O'Brien, also of Mont Vernon, before he was replaced by policy director Greg Moore in December. Mead was given a newly created position in the House Republican office as "director of legislator services" and was known to be unhappy with the demotion. He took a $19,820 cut to his annual salary, down to $64,380.

In February and March, Mead was reimbursed by the state $455.66 in mileage and tolls to visit locations throughout New Hampshire where he gave a "presentation on legislator services." According to people who were at some of the GOP meetings, the presentations mostly encouraged attendees to run for office. Mead was the only of the five employees between the House majority and minority offices to request mileage during the 2011-2012 session.

Upon learning of Mead's reimbursement, House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli said House employees "should be paid with public money only for legislative - not campaign - work." The trips called into question "what exactly Bob Mead is being paid to do for the House Majority Office," she said. House Majority Whip Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican, said he knew Mead was keeping a list of which Republican representatives were running or retiring, but "beyond that, I'm really not sure what he's doing."

The job description given to Mead in December put him in charge of "legislative outreach," for which he was to "coordinate, develop and cultivate relationships with legislators, as well as state, county and local leaders to expand communications and dialogue and to provide information about legislative goals and the Majority agenda."

Moore, who approved Mead's mileage requests, would only say yesterday that "Bob Mead is no longer an employee of the House of Representatives," declining further comment because "we don't discuss personnel matters." Moore said last week that Mead was presumably doing his job "if his job is outreach and he's reaching out to Republican groups," but added that "obviously what he's doing in his partisan role as a partisan staffer is whatever direction he gets from the majority office."

Bettencourt has said he didn't know Mead was billing the state for his travel until his office was contacted last week by the Monitor. The chief of staff, not the majority office, provides legislative employees with their job description and has sole authority to approve mileage requests, Bettencourt said.

Bettencourt said Saturday that he and O'Brien asked Mead to return the mileage money to the state and "it is my understanding he has done so," though the legislative accounting office was unable yesterday to confirm receipt. Mead's departure reduces the majority office staff from three employees to two, but Bettencourt said "there are absolutely no plans to my knowledge to hire any additional full-time staff for the remainder of this legislative session."

The New Hampshire General Court's ethics guidelines don't expressly prohibit campaign or electoral work on state time. Legislative employees "should view his or her work for the General Court as a public service and should strive to promote the common good of the citizens of the State of New Hampshire through the devotion of his or her professional talents and energies to the support of the General Court in its mission as the representative of the citizens of this state," according to the ethics booklet last updated in 2009.

Yesterday morning, Norelli sent a letter to O'Brien demanding an apology for "an abuse of the public trust and of taxpayers' money." Democrats say all their election-geared activities are handled by state party officials or workers paid by a political action committee.

After hearing of Mead's resignation, Norelli said "there are still a number of questions" to be addressed by Republican leaders.

"By whom was (Mead) directed to do electoral work?" Norelli said. "I would like to know why the speaker hasn't taken any action against Greg Moore, the chief of staff, since he was the one who approved the reimbursement."

Like Moore, Bettencourt said he was unable to comment on the circumstances surrounding Mead's resignation "due to long-standing House policy."

"Unfortunately the professionalism and decorum underlying this policy allows ignorant partisans to jibber jabber without response but the House policy of not commenting on these matters is the proper one," Bettencourt said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @mattspolar.)




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