Sununu’s pick to lead Corrections won’t follow Wrenn’s retirement plan

  • Helen Hanks

Monitor staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Gov. Chris Sununu’s nominee to head New Hampshire’s Department of Corrections will face a vote before the Executive Council on Wednesday, a day before her predecessor is set to retire.

Assistant Commissioner Helen Hanks has served as assistant commissioner since 2014; she previously was director of medical and psychiatric services for the department. The committee held a hearing on her nomination Tuesday morning.

The commissioner, who reports to the governor, oversees a $251 million two-year budget, as well as day-to-day operations at the state’s three prisons, probation offices and transitional housing units.

If confirmed, Hanks would face significant staffing challenges within the department. The newly built women’s prison in Concord, which Hanks has overseen, has had delayed openings. A contract impasse between the governor and corrections officers over starting salaries has led to further uncertainty.

Hanks’s predecessor, William Wrenn, announced his resignation in August. He is slated to leave the post Nov. 9.

Wrenn retired as police chief in Hampton in 2005 and has collected a pension and a salary ever since. During the past 12 years, Wrenn made more than $2.5 million from his two sources of income.

Gubernatorial appointees are exempt from state laws that prevent government employees from collecting a pension from the New Hampshire Retirement System and returning to full-time government work. Legislators have not closed the loophole that affords a few top-earning employees the opportunity to double dip for years; however, the governor has control over who is nominated to fill those spots.

Unlike Wrenn, Hanks will not be collecting a pension and a salary at the same time. She eligible to retire and collect a pension at age 60, or she can retire and collect a reduced pension at age 50.

Last year, Wrenn made $224,597 from his pension and salary. Hanks earned $119,225 in 2016, according to state records.

Hanks, who was nominated by Sununu late last month, will come before the council at 10 a.m. in the State House.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)