To The Daily Sun,
In a recent letter to The Daily Sun, I criticized the dishonesty of our county commissioners in their fabrication of an alleged budgetary crisis. What started out as an immediate $617,872.20 problem, turned into a $455,500 problem, and whatever problem there was got solved by a $10,000 transfer. But in the process, the "crisis" lie was told to the executive committee of the convention, the public and finally to the court before which the commissioners had taken their crisis.
In this letter, my criticism is of equally serious misconduct. Rather than through misrepresentations that proved to be grossly untrue, the fact of the misconduct was revealed by an apparently honest statement by the county administrator in an interview that was featured in the Oct. 2 Daily Sun. Ms. Shackett explained what she had done, with commissioner approval, with a substantial settlement check previously received from the county's health insurance provider for 2013 overcharges.
It is important to note that the fact of a settlement generating money to Belknap County was not made known to the public until it was first mentioned at a meeting of the executive committee of the convention on Sept. 29. Until that time, it was a secret known only to the commissioners and their inner circle.
At the time the check was received, a suit by the convention against the commissioners was pending.
The relief sought in that suit was an injunction to stop the commissioners' practice of moving appropriated money from the line item to which it had been designated by the convention to any line of the commissioners' choice so long as all affected line items involved the same department. To illustrate, for example, the commissioners' position was that they could move money allocated to the nursing home as they pleased so long as the moves were all within that department.
At the time the suit was brought, the commissioners had already altered the convention's budget, changing the convention's appropriation for employer contribution to health insurance premiums from $2,594,925 to $2,832,579, an increase of $237,654.
Ms. Shackett's account of how the settlement check was treated is revealing. She candidly admits that when the check was received, she and the commissioners were concerned about the outcome of the pending lawsuit, which is understandable for anyone who has read the applicable state statutes. So the commissioners and their administrator set out to use this check to preserve their changes in the convention's budget allocation for health insurance premiums in case it became necessary to get around an unfavorable court decision.
From the fact that they did not deposit this substantial check, it is obvious that they realized that if it were deposited, the proceeds had to be classified as unanticipated income as the refund had not been included as an expected revenue item during the budget process earlier in the year. As such, the proceeds would become part of the county's general fund, and thereby usable only as part of a future appropriation by the convention. Depositing the check would not allow them to control the money represented by the check and to circumvent an unfavorable court decision, if necessary.
At some point not made clear in Ms. Shackett's interview, they contacted the health insurance provider and were told that if they returned the check, they could have the amount of the check credited to the county's 2014 employee health insurance premium bill.
We have not been provided with the timing of the next important event in the sequence, but in my opinion, it should not make a great deal of difference. Either fearing an adverse court decision or, after such decision was rendered in the form of the issuance of a preliminary injunction on Aug. 28, the check was returned.
By returning the settlement check, the commissioners and their administrator had, in actual effect, spent more in county funds for employee health insurance than the appropriated amount contained in the convention budget. If you have any doubt that unappropriated county funds were used by the commissioners and the administrator to purchase health insurance coverage in excess of the amount appropriated by the convention, ask yourself two simple questions:
1. After returning the check what is the dollar value of the health insurance they now have at their control? — the dollar amount of the convention appropriation plus the dollar value of the credit obtained by the return of the check.
2. If the check had been deposited rather than returned, what would have been the effect? The county's general fund would have been increased by the dollar amount of the check. It is sophistry to suggest that additional health insurance is not being purchased with county funds.
Thus, it is fair to say that rather than misusing appropriated money by moving it from the designated line item to a health insurance line item, the commissioners and the administrator misused unappropriated county funds by returning the refund check to pay for health insurance in excess of that amount of coverage which was authorized by the convention's appropriation. Rather than follow the statutory formula for additional needed money and request a supplemental appropriation, the commissioners have attempted to hide their actions behind a cloak of confusion, arguing that a credit is somehow not the same as money when in fact the check that was returned to obtain the credit could have been deposited and thereby have been turned into cash in the county's general fund.
Again the commissioners have displayed a total disrespect for the convention's statutory responsibilities in the budget process along with an arrogant disregard for the role of our courts in the governmental process. The scheme to use the settlement check to obtain a credit to be used to pay for more health insurance than the amount authorized in the budget has been admitted by the administrator to have originated as an idea to circumvent an anticipated adverse court decision in the convention's suit to require the commissioners to follow the line-item amounts of the budget. With a lawsuit pending over their actions with regard to the budget process and use of appropriated monies, one would expect the commissioners and the administrator to seek judicial guidance before taking on such a bold appropriation function with the settlement check. Instead, the commissioners have committed three wrongful acts in an effort to have their way:
1. They used a check issued to the county which represented unanticipated 2014 income to purchase "credit" which has been turned into additional employee health insurance.
2. The credit amount which has been added to the convention's budget lines for employee health insurance has produced an increase of those lines over the amounts appropriated by the convention without the statutorily required approval of the convention's executive committee.
3. The failure of the commissioners to advise the court of their plan concerning the settlement check and to request judicial approval of its appropriateness in light of the pending litigation concerning the county budget process was a contemptuous and arrogant display of disrespect for the court and its role in resolving disputed issues concerning the county budget process.
If good government is to return to our county, dramatic change must occur. We must have commissioners who recognize that the convention has an important role in the determination of how money is spent in the administration of our county and commissioners who recognize and respect the role that our courts have in resolving questions of law. It is clear from recent events that our current county administration is seriously lacking on both points. A new type of leadership is very much needed.
We need commissioners who recognize and respect the function of the convention regarding matters of spending and we need representatives who can work together as a convention without unnecessary bickering and unproductive distractions.
The two bodies, the commissioners and the convention, should form a team which acts together to produce the best county government we in Belknap County can afford. Hopefully our collective efforts as voters in the upcoming election will give us a new team and a new style of county government.
Last Updated on Monday, 13 October 2014 05:40
To The Daily Sun,
On Thursday, Oct. 9, two members of my family and I were having lunch at Shang Hai Restaurant in Laconia. When my
daughter-in-law went to pay the tab for our meal, we were told it had already been paid! To the person or persons
who so kindly picked up our tab, we thank you very much. It is nice to know there are people who still think of others, and like to do a kind deed.
Thank you again so much, my daughter has just passed away and this act of kindness made my day. God bless you.
Sally A. Abbott & Family
Last Updated on Monday, 13 October 2014 05:27
As a young man, I received one of the last of the old Vietnam-era draft cards. President Nixon had ended the actual draft, but people still had to register. I joined the service anyway but if someone had asked me then or even 20 years ago what I had thought of military conscription, I would have opposed it. I though military service should be voluntary. In the past decade, however, I have reexamined that position.
Today's "all volunteer" military certainly includes many patriotic young people but has also become a force which many people who do not have other opportunities join for a job or educational benefits. People who already have those opportunities do not have to join if they do not want to. For instance, very few members of Congress have children serving, at least in the enlisted ranks. Those who make decisions to send our kids to war often do not assume the personal risk of losing a child. If the children of the rich and politicians were at equal risk, would those in power think twice before putting our troops in harm's way?
During the Vietnam War, people were asking questions, including the soldiers themselves. One of the stories of the antiwar movement often covered up in history books is the "G.I. Movement" where vets as well as active duty members of the military were protesting that war. That is why the military "brass" opposes renewed conscription. Today they can say "hey, remember you signed up for it."
Any new draft would have to be fair. The Vietnam Era draft was far from equitable because if you had money or connections, it was easy to avoid going to Southeast Asia. Today, when people think of draft evaders, they think of antiwar activists who burned their draft cards and fled to Canada. In reality, most who avoided going to Vietnam did so legally, like former President Bill Clinton.
For instance, if you stayed in college for four years and maintained a C- average, you could receive a deferment. If you could afford your own sympathetic doctor or psychiatrist and not rely on those at the induction center, you could be declared unfit to serve.
If you had the right connections, there was even a way to actually serve and to claim that service in a future political career while being virtually assured you would not have to serve in Vietnam. That was by joining the National Guard. The National Guard in the 60s and 70s was very different than the Guard today which is regularly deployed. Then, very few Guard units were sent to Vietnam. Everyone knew that and so there were long waiting lists to join. But, if you had connections, you could "jump the line." Examples include former President George W. Bush who joined the Texas Air Guard and was even AWOL from his drills.
Another was former Vice President Dan Quayle whose father was a friend of the adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard. When Mr. Quayle was in college and other students were protesting the war, he was in favor of the war. But, instead of Quayle volunteering for combat, his dad "pulled strings" to get him into the Guard and Mr. Quayle avoided putting his own life on the line.
As a result, a large percentage of those who served, died, and were wounded in Vietnam were members of minority groups as well as the working-class and the poor. If we were to reinstitute the draft, it would have to be different and fair. Both men and women would be subject to conscription. Every politician's child would equally share the risks due to political decisions. Let students finish their semester but do not let them avoid conscription for four years.
Even better: what would be wrong with compulsory national service for all young people that would not necessarily have to be military service? It would certainly let everyone "give back" to their country.
(E. Scott Cracraft is a U.S. citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford.)
Last Updated on Monday, 13 October 2014 05:24
To The Daily Sun,
As a senior, money is tight these days, so I wanted to say thank you to VIP.
I had some repairs that needed to be done on my car. The price they gave me was for one hour of labor. I found out that it took seven hours, but they still honored the original price.
Tears of joy! Thank you!
Last Updated on Friday, 10 October 2014 09:54
To The Daily Sun,
Laconia High School "recognizes the value of the PSAT" as the recognized best practice for the SATs. As such, they have paid for juniors to take the national test.
What a wonderful testament to the commitment our administrators have to current Laconia High School students and offering the strongest encouragement to matriculate to college. Thank you for making an investment in our children's future and setting the bar ever higher for LHS students.
Last Updated on Friday, 10 October 2014 09:49