The Local Government Center has a new executive director – to the surprise of many, it’s Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican.
But Bragdon’s decision to fill both roles raises questions about whether doing so creates an unusual conflict of interest.
The head of the state Professional Firefighters Union Dave Lang summed up the reaction of many on Tuesday.
“Um, we find the employment interesting.”
Lang’s union led the charge against the LGC’s improper management of taxpayer funded insurance pools. That fight ultimately involved state regulators, an order for the LGC to repay cities and towns millions of dollars.
That case is still pending before the state Supreme Court.
Attorney Andru Volinsky, special counsel to the state’s securities bureau, says Senator Bragdon’s dual roles inherently clash.
“The idea that Mr. Bragdon would think that he could pursue the people’s interest as president of the Senate and LGC’s separate interest…is mindboggling.”
For his part, Bragdon says he doesn’t see it as a significant issue.
“The conflicts I would face are the conflicts are the same conflicts that other senators face who have employment. It’s a volunteer legislature. Other reps and senators are employed. Some are employed by state agencies, others are employed by private entities.”
His new job pays $180,000 and the LGC lobbies lawmakers.
Bragdon, who says the LGC approached him last month about the job, says he’ll recuse himself from bills that deal with risk pool insurance.
Beyond that, he sees no problem.
“A number of the former Senate presidents have had businesses, run businesses, or had employment during their terms as Senate presidents so it’s not unique.”
But others say it’s not so simple.
Opponents point out Bragdon controls the Senate’s schedule and committee assignments, and say it could become awkward for Senators to speak and vote freely on matters pertaining to the LGC.
The Democratic Party blasted Bragdon’s decision, saying his blindness to these issues calls into question his ethical judgment.
Senator Peggy Gilmour, a Nashua Democrat, doesn’t go that far, but she doesn’t see it as realistic.
“I think there would be times when it would be such a conflict around the dual roles that it would be impossible to fill both duties.”
But GOP spokesman Ryan Williams says he has confidence Bragdon will be able to step aside when there is any chance of a conflict presenting itself.
“He is the right person to take over what has been a troubled agency and bring new leadership and we’re confident he’ll be able to do both jobs and do them both very well.”
That of course remains to be seen.
Tom Enright, chairman of the LGC’s Board of Directors, says Bragdon has the experience to know when he needs to abstain from voting on legislation.
He also notes that the lobbying arm of the LGC – the New Hampshire Municipal Association – will become a separate entity in September.
“And if this becomes too complicated, it may result in him stepping aside from something.”
Bragdon says for now, he plans to run for re-election, but says he’ll have a better idea once he understands the work load of his new job.