To The Daily Sun,
Our county commissioners and their administrator continue to view themselves as above the law and to act accordingly. Despite the clear wording of applicable state statutes and a court order directing them to adhere to the statutory mandates, they continue to ignore itemized budgetary lines and appropriation amounts.
A recent example of continued lawlessness in budgetary matters arose out of a $15,000 transfer approved by the convention Executive Committee on Oct. 27. As a result of the transfer $8,000 was added to the convention's legal services line item and $7,000 was added to the corresponding line item for commissioners/administration legal services.
On Nov. 4, the county administration wrote two checks totaling $5,746 to the law firm representing the commissioners in the lawsuit brought against them by the convention. These checks have been charged against the line item in the current budget covering legal services for the convention, despite the fact that the service paid for was representation of the commissioners in a suit brought against them by the convention for failing to honor line item appropriations of money in the budget.
Of equal, if not greater importance, the bill that was paid with the misapplied $5,746 was for legal services rendered on behalf of the commissioners in August and September. The county administration was knowingly running up legal bills exceeding the amount appropriated for such without bothering to seek Executive Committee approval for the transfer of additional funds as specifically required by statute.
Moreover, by their own admission, the county administration has incurred additional debt for legal services well in excess of the amount appropriated in the current budget for such expenses. In fact, at the most recent meeting of the Executive Committee, the administration represented that it needed an additional $28,000 to pay its legal bills. When asked how much was currently owed, the Executive Committee was told that there is currently unpaid debt for legal services of approximately $24,000.
New Hampshire RSA 24:15 I. could not be clearer: "No county commissioner, or elected or appointed county officer, shall pay, or agree to pay, or incur any liability for the payment of, any sum of money for which the county convention has made no appropriation or in excess of any appropriation so made...." The intended seriousness of this provision is underscored by RSA 24: 16 which specifically provides that violation of RSA 24: 15 "shall subject the person so violating to the provisions of RSA 661: 9, providing for removal from office."
The misapplication by the commissioners of $5,746 from the convention budget line to pay the commissioners' legal bills in the litigation with the convention is a most flagrant and indefensible violation of the convention's statutory line-item authority and the court order currently in place in the lawsuit between the convention and the commissioners. In addition, the admitted incurring of legal service debt by the commissioners in excess of the appropriated amount allocated for such without executive committee approval is another very clear violation of state law.
Questions of misconduct on budgetary matters is not limited to bills for legal services. There are also very serious questions about how the administrator and/or the commissioners have handled over $150,000 in checks that were issued to the county by Health Trust. It appears that, without any action being taken in a public meeting, the checks were returned to Health Trust by the administrator in return for credit against future 2014 health insurance invoices. The administrator has said that at least part of the money represented by the returned checks can legally be used to obtain credit against health insurance premiums owed in 2014 by the county for health insurance coverage for county employees.
Her stated justification for this position is that part of the money represented by the returned checks was excessive premium amounts paid this year for health insurance coverage. This has been shown to be untrue.
We have just completed a hotly contested election in our county. The commissioners and some of their allies in the delegation/convention made the conflict between the convention and the commissioners the centerpiece of the election. Despite efforts to demonize the convention and its leadership with allegations of pending crises caused by budget constraints and mass confusion produced by micromanagement of county affairs by the executive committee, the voters spoke loudly and clearly in favor of a change in county government.
If we are to have an open and honest county government, we need to make sure it is staffed with people who will not place themselves above the law in an effort to have their way. A path to this end is provided by New Hampshire RSA 24: 17 which provides: "The county convention may appoint a committee of its own members ... to investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or any person appointed or employed by such officer, which committee shall have power to summon witnesses, examine them under oath, secure a transcript of the testimony and do other necessary acts to conduct such investigation."
Given what appears to be serious administrative deviations from the statutes and the applicable court order in the execution of the current budget, a thorough investigation seems in order. We need to know exactly what has happened with expenses related to legal services. How and when did they get so far in excess of the amount appropriated for such expenses? Was this something that should have been seen coming? If so, why was it not discussed earlier with the executive committee, before the appropriation was exceeded? What has happened with the funds represented by the Health Trust checks that were received by the county? Who made the decision to return the checks in return for a credit on future 2014 invoices? Why was the decision not discussed and voted on in public? Did anyone in the decision-making process stand to benefit from the decision that was made? The resulting answers to these and related questions, should identify anyone who has chosen to ignore the statutes and the court order regarding adherence to the statutes. If the investigation identifies any knowing violator, then the next appropriate action can and should be considered.
- Category: Letters
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