Sununu replaces female emergency management director with ‘man for the job’

  • New Hampshire Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn swears in Robert Buxton as the new Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management on Sept. 6.. —Courtesy

  • Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn swears in Robert Buxton as the new director of Homeland Security. Courtesy

Monitor Staff
Published: 10/28/2022 5:22:46 PM

When former Hudson Fire Chief Robert Buxton was approved to become the state’s newest director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Gov. Chris Sununu called him “the man for the job.”

Buxton was chosen by Sununu this summer to replace Jennifer Harper, who was the first female director and only the third director since the division was formed in 2006. Harper was also one of few women in a top leadership role in the male-dominated Department of Safety.

“Keeping New Hampshire safe and secure is critical and Robert Buxton is the man for the job,” said Gov. Sununu in a news release announcing the change in authority. 

Harper’s resume showed 35 years of service to the state. She started her career in emergency management in 1991 under the NH Governor’s Office of Emergency Management and went on to serve as the HSEM Operations Chief, co-director of the Department of Safety’s Information and Analysis Center, HSEM Bioterrorism Coordinator, HSEM State Exercise Training Officer and HSEM Terrorism Coordinator.

She earned a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security and Defense from the Naval Postgraduate School, an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University, a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Franklin Pierce University and an associate degree in Business Science from Hesser College, according to her bio.

Sununu’s staff said Harper wasn’t reappointed simply because her term ended. However, it’s commonplace for a governor to reappoint commissioners, assistant commissioners and division heads for more than one term, like former Department of Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes, who served three, four-year terms. Current commissioner Robert Quinn’s term ends next year.  

“Director Harper’s term ended on July 24, 2022 and the Governor thanks Jennifer for her service to the state,” said Jayne Millerick, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, in an email to the Monitor. “After the position was posted, the Department of Safety underwent an extensive application and interview process.”

Had Gov. Sununu reappointed Harper to the position, she would have accepted, she said. Harper declined further comment for the story.

Millerick did not comment on Sununu’s choice not to reappoint Harper. 

The division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is generally responsible for coordinating the state’s response to major disasters as well as planning, training and exercises to ensure readiness at the local and state levels of government for the safety and security of the state’s residents and visitors.

Buxton, of Bedford, has an equally lengthy career in municipal-level public service. He became the chief of the Hudson Fire Department in 2013 and was also the emergency management director for the town. Before that he served as a Lieutenant with Nashua Fire Rescue.

Five days before Buxton was sworn in for his state job, he “retired” from Hudson on September 1, which means he will collect an annual pension of $93,036 on top of his $115,492 salary from the Department of Safety. Harper was not collecting a pension when she was director, according to New Hampshire Retirement System records.

When asked about the decision to hire Buxton and allow him to earn a pension on top of his salary, Millerick said he was going to receive the money regardless of whether he reentered public service, or not. Buxton was approved unanimously by the state’s five-member Executive Council. 

For his part, Buxton said he remains committed to having women in leadership roles at Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“We have a strong female leadership team; two out of five of our section chiefs are female and all but one of the assistants are female,” Buxton said. “We have a strong female leadership team with the HSEM and I am very proud of that every day.”

Buxton said he was humbled by his appointment and is excited to take on his new role.

“I worked for 30 years municipally and this is an opportunity to come in and learn the new systems, the new employees and the programs that are established,” Buxton said in a phone interview with the Monitor. “Then, as a group, we will move forward with making changes.”




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