CONCORD — With the decision of the Legislative Ethics Committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Senator Peter Bragdon as executive director of the Local Government Center(LGC), Democrats have renewed calls for Senator Jeanie Forrester to clarify her role in the affair.
Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP), said this week that while Bragdon was seeking the position he discussed the prospect with Forrester, who agreed to act as a reference for him, then offered her a seat on a committee charged with reviewing the conduct of the LGC and recommending changes to the statute governing it, which she readily accepted.
Both Bragdon and Forrester have maintained that they discussed the committee assignment the week before Bragdon and Bald first spoke about the position at the LGC on July 11.
The LGC , which has since been reorganized, managed three risk pools — a health care trust, worker's compensation trust and property insurance trust — for member municipalities. It has been embroiled in litigation with state regulators and numerous municipalities about the disposition of more than $36 million in surplus funds it collected.
"I have not seen anything like this," said Buckley of what he called "the collusion between Bragdon and Forrester, his validator." He explained that Bragdon received Forrester's support for a job paying $180,000 a year while appointing her to the committee overseeing his employer. "She was actively engaged in helping him get the job when she knew she was being appointed to a committee overseeing the LGC," Buckley said. "Why would she accept the committee assignment?"
Buckley said that "it is rime for someone to file a complaint against Forrester with the Ethics Committee and I hope someone will. Senator Forrester should be asked the fundamental question," he continued, "'what did she know and when did she know it?'"
The complaint lodged with the Ethics Committee by Representative Richard Watrous (D-Concord) that led to the investigation includes the appointment of Forrester among the violations committed by Bragdon, but levels no charges against her.
According to documents the NHDP obtained from the LGC, Bragdon first expressed interest in the position on July 11 while speaking with George Bald, the interim executive director of the LGC. In an e-mail sent afterwards Bragdon told Bald "it was a pleasure talking with you earlier today . . . quite an unexpected turn the conversation took" and attached his resume. "I'm glad you're giving this some consideration," Bald replied.
On July 16 Bragdon told Forrester he was applying for the job. "Finally, I happened to be on the phone with Senator Forrester a few minutes ago," Bragdon wrote in an e-mail to Bald, "and given her background . . . I thought I'd mention the conversation you and I had. Her reaction could not have been more positive to the idea." By letter, dated three days later, July 19, Bragdon formally appointed Forrester to the committee.
Forrester has insisted that Bragdon asked her to serve on the committee before July 16, when he first told her of his interest in the position with the LGC, although she cannot recall the exact of their conversation. "I can tell you again," she repeated yesterday, "the day he asked me to serve on that committee I had no idea he was considering that job."
Responding to the complaint before the Ethics Committee, attorney Russell Hilliard presented Bragdon's explanation of Forrester's appointment. Bragdon, he wrote, kept a spreadsheet of appointments to study committees created by legislation enacted during the session. As bills came to him for signature, he added his appointees to study committees to the spreadsheet. Once he had signed all bills, the spreadsheet was given to his staff to complete the paperwork, including the formal letter of appointment.
According to the records of the Secretary of State, House Bill 283 establishing the committee on the LGC on July 2 and was signed and returned either the same or next day. "When Senator Bragdon signed the bill, on either July 2 or 3, he added the committee to his spreadsheet, as well as Senator Forrester's name as his appointee," Hilliard wrote, noting that "this was more than a week" before he learned of the opportunity at the LGC.
However, Harrell Kirstein, communications director of the NHDP, who collected the documents and prepared the timeline underlying the complaint, claims that Bragdon could not have appointed Forrester before July 10 as he claims. He refers to an e-mail Bragdon sent to Senator Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), who apparently expressed interest in the LGC committee, which he finds inconsistent with his other statements. On July 8, days after Bragdon says he named Forrester, he told Soucy "I am still waiting on a few more bills to pass by me on the way to the governor — I check each bill for study committees when I sign it . Once the last one passes through here in the next day or two I will have a complete list and start naming people."
"They will do what they will do," Forrester shrugged this week. "There are so many more things we should be focused on." She said that committee has completed its work and filed its report. "We were unanimous, three Democrats and two Republicans," she said. "And we recommended that no member of the Legislature should serve on the board of directors of the LGC or any other risk pool. I don't know what it is they think I've done," she remarked.