It's been just a few days since Maura Carroll announced she would step down as head of the Local Government Center. Today, there are still questions about her severance package and what the change in leadership could mean for the embattled organization. StateImpact New Hampshire's Amanda Loder has been covering the twists and turns in the LGC story. She's been making calls this week and gathering reaction. She joins All Things Considered host Brady Carlson with an update.
Q: Maura Carroll worked at the LGC for 25 years—four of those at the helm of the organization. And the media has taken a lot of interest in her severance package. What do we know, first of all, about that package, and then, why is it important?
A: Sure. It’s important because the LGC is funded by dues from member communities and school districts, and its insurance programs are also funded with premiums paid by public entities. So what we’re talking about here is taxpayer money that comes from numerous towns and cities across the state. As for the severance package, pretty much as soon as the board’s decision was announced, media outlets, including StateImpact, filed Right To Know requests to get the details. In response to the demand, the LGC ultimately posted Carroll’s contract online.
Q: And it’s been widely reported that Carroll could get as much as a year’s salary—more than $189,000--in severance.
A: She could also see payouts for work expenses and unused vacation. That’s according to the contract she signed last June. But as to the final details, she has yet to sign a release that would make this information public. Dave Lang, President of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire, has been one of the organization’s most vocal critics.
“More importantly than the dollars, which I think are pretty impressive, are the other fine details of severance that have not been disclosed of yet," Lang says. "I know that the previous Executive Director, when we were given, under a Right To Know request, the severance package of the previous Executive Director, it was pretty significant and large.”
Q: And Dave Lang referring to when John Andrews retired as head of the LGC. It was widely reported that his package included $100,000.
A: Yes, that was to be paid in $20,000 increments over the course of five years. On paper, that was payment for consulting…which he never actually did. The state stepped in, though, and he ultimately got to keep $40,000 of it.
Q: Now let's go back and just explain why there was this sudden departure at all...why Maura Carroll announced she was stepping down?
A: Well, for much of her tenure, the LGC and its regulator—the Bureau of Securities Regulation—have pretty much been in a pitched battle. The Bureau accused the LGC of over-charging communities for health insurance, hoarding assets, and improperly using funds. This past summer, a hearing officer agreed, and ordered the LGC to return more than $52 million dollars to communities. The LGC is appealing that decision to the state Supreme Court. But it has to follow the order in the interim. And the LGC’s interpretation of how to do that differs pretty dramatically from how the Bureau of Securities Regulation reads it. After the LGC announced the decision late Friday afternoon, I spoke with board member Shelagh Connelly about how the board came to the unanimous decision to dismiss Carroll.
“We’ve been working for months to try and move forward in resolving our appeal and so forth, and so, over time, we’ve been finding ourselves frustrated with our inability to move forward," Connelly says. "And so it was actually over the last couple of weeks that we really sort of came to the final decision that we needed to seek a change in leadership and to try to establish a better rapport and relationship with our regulatory agency.”
Q: All right. So the board came to this conclusion, but otherwise, an unexpected departure?
A: Outside the confines of the Local Government Center’s office, absolutely. In fact, I spoke with Keith Hickey, who is the Salem Town Manager. Salem left the LGC in 2012, but until late last year, he was Vice Chair of the LGC board. And he told me he didn’t see it coming.
“I’m disappointed. I mean, there had been some conversations, off and on, and I think Maura was somebody who would always put the organization before herself. And I know she did it a couple of times during this very unsettling period," Hickey says. "And I think she cared very much about the organization and was a very selfless person.”
Q: Now Salem is one of a number of towns and cities that are upset about the fact that the LGC might only give them partial repayments of their insurance premiums, or maybe none at all. How are these towns taking that news?
A: I get the sense in talking with people on and off the record…that they don’t associate Maura Carroll with the organization’s problems. Take Todd Selig. He’s Town Administrator for Durham. That town has been fighting the LGC over how much it should get back for over-paying on insurance premiums.
“Any organization is larger than its CEO. And for some, the very unfortunate negative publicity, which has dogged the Local Government Center, has been attributed, I believe unfairly, to Maura Carroll," Selig says. "And Maura has worked tirelessly for cities and towns and school districts over 25 years. And it’s important to not lose sight of that.”
Q: But given that negative coverage, are there still questions dogging the LGC now?
A: Absolutely. In fact, Dave Lang, President of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire actually registered his disappointment with the decision. After saying he was “encouraged” to hear that the LGC wanted to change course on Friday, he then said…
“We’re very disappointed to see what type of change. When the leaders of the board came out and said that the main reason that they were making this change in leadership was to enhance their relationship with their regulator," Lang says. "Whether you get along with your regulator or you don’t, it’s not really at play here. It’s what's the law say? You have to follow the law. What did the hearing officer's report rule, and it’s time to implement that hearing officer’s report.”
Q: And I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from about this case, as it develops.
Q: That’s our StateImpact reporter Amanda Loder. StateImpact is a project of NPR and NHPR examining the effects of public policy on the people, businesses, and economy of New Hampshire.