Key point: “Even if he recuses himself, he’s in the ability, as presiding officer, to know where the votes are lining up, and that’s an advantage no one in a competitive business should have,” Clegg said. “He should take the job and resign the seat. I don’t have any animosity towards Peter, and think he’s done a good job as Senate president. I just don’t see how it’s sustainable for him to do both.”
Nashua Telegraph: Senate President Bragdon to take $180k job at quasi-public agency, draws immediate accusations of conflict
CONCORD – Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, on Tuesday accepted the $180,000-a-year job of running the Local Government Center, the controversial nonprofit that manages health and other insurance plans for cities and school districts across the state.
Bragdon, 50, signed a one-year contract and starts Wednesday as executive director, replacing George Bald, the former state development commissioner who took over at the LGC for the past six months.
“I suspect the LGC has been thinking about it for a while, but it’s less than a month it’s been on my radar when I bumped into people who asked if I would consider it,” Bragdon said.
“Until then, I had never thought about it.”
Only a day earlier, the LGC filed its appeal to the state Supreme Court of the state hearing officer’s decision ordering the LGC to reorganize itself and eventually return more than $50 million in surplus to member cities and towns.
Attempts by Bald to negotiate a post-decision settlement with the state Office of Securities Regulation in the matter failed, officials said.
Bragdon said he will remain as Senate leader and intends to seek re-election as senator in 2014. He plans to remain a member of the Milford School Board for a term that runs another 18 months.
As for conflicts of interest, Bragdon said he would abstain from taking part on any legislation related to municipal and school insurance risk pools at the Statehouse and any insurance contracts when the LGC would be a bidder before the town’s school board.
For example, Bragdon said he named Sen. Jeannie Forrester, R-Meredith, to a study committee to examine changes to that risk pool law before he became interested in the LGC post.
Bragdon said he’ll play no part in any legislation that results from the study.
Meanwhile, after Sept. 1, the New Hampshire Municipal Association – the lobbying and public information arm for cities and towns – will become separate from the LGC, with its own executive director.
Steve Fournier, chairman of the NHMA board, explained the current and future relationship.
“While NHMA has never lobbied on behalf of the risk pools or LGC, I believe that NHMA’s role in serving municipal governments would include making sure that the state’s municipalities have access to appropriate and affordable risk/insurance products for municipal employees and municipal property,” Fournier said in a statement.
As a result, Bragdon said he will be able to vote and take part on any legislation dealing broadly with the dozens of bills that the municipal lobby advocates or opposes every year.
“After the reorganization is complete, the Municipal Association will become separate. I’ll have no role in that, and thus there will be no conflict for me there,” Bragdon said.
Andru Volinsky, a private lawyer assisting the state Bureau of Securities Regulation in its long-standing case against the LGC, said the hiring looks like a backroom deal the likes of which Bald had vowed to help eliminate.
“George Bald 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,” Volinsky said.
“They had six months during Mr. Bald’s interim executive directorship to conduct a national search, find somebody who could lead a half-billion-dollar health insurer based on that person’s ability … and the best they could do was the Senate president?”
New Hampshire Democratic Party Communications Director Harrell Kirstein said Bragdon put himself, and the entire leadership of the Senate, into an ethical corner with this move.
“Bragdon’s irresponsible decision to accept this position raises serious long-term questions about his ethical judgment,” Kirstein said.
“It is a blatant conflict of interest. How does Sen. Bragdon plan to continue as Senate president while taking a job that raises so many serious concerns? Almost every single issue and/or piece of legislation that comes before the state Senate impacts the LGC or its sister organization, the municipal association.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Robert Clegg, of Hudson, now a prominent lobbyist in Concord, said Bragdon’s potential conflicts go beyond risk pool legislation to any bill affecting health, property and worker’s compensation insurance.
“Even if he recuses himself, he’s in the ability, as presiding officer, to know where the votes are lining up, and that’s an advantage no one in a competitive business should have,” Clegg said. “He should take the job and resign the seat. I don’t have any animosity towards Peter, and think he’s done a good job as Senate president. I just don’t see how it’s sustainable for him to do both.”
The contract includes a one-year renewal, as long as Bragdon and the LGC board of directors are in agreement with it.
“The intention there is to allow it to continue if it works,” Bragdon said. “I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Three separate boards of the LGC voted 30 minutes apart Tuesday morning in favor of hiring Bragdon.
The only dissenting vote came from Rockingham County Register of Deeds Kathy Stacey, who complained that the press release announcing Bragdon’s hiring came out before the panel on which she serves had voted.
LGC board Chairman Tom Enright said Bragdon was clearly the most qualified among five candidates who were reportedly considered for the post.
“We are truly excited that Mr. Bragdon has agreed to join our team. His strong management, organizational and people skills will be instrumental in guiding the LGC and its risk pools into the future,” Enright said.
Last August, the hearing officer said the LGC must return surplus money to members starting with a $17 million payment over the next year.
Much of the penalty was that state securities officials had charged, and the hearing officer had agreed, that the group’s health insurance trust kept millions more in reserves than it needed to.
As a result of the hearing officer’s ruling, 10 municipal groups that had left the LGC could make no claim on any of the money.
Last week, the group of towns sued the state court seeking relief and hired as its attorney Richard Lehmann, who is also the state Senate’s legal counsel.
”There are a lot of changes in store for the LGC in the next year. George has done a great job righting the ship,” Bragdon said of Bald. “The first goal is to get through the issues in front of us now.”
From 2004-06, Bragdon had been operations manager of Comp-Sigma Ltd., of Concord, which managed workers compensation insurance policies for private employers.
“We weren’t competing with LGC but managing trusts for manufacturing and private lumber industries,” Bragdon said.
Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or email@example.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).