Let me begin this post with a reminder to all that the First Amendment guarantee of free speech was primarily intended to protect those criticizing and speaking out against the government. Where it gets dicey is when the one you must criticize is supposed to protect this right…
In a letter to the Editor of the Laconia Daily Sun on March 3rd, 2008 [pdf here, p 5], Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin, after accusing me of “inundating the county’s administrative staff with endless Right-to-Know requests,” further implied that I didn’t read the material, or that I chose to ignore what I learned when I did. Most people that know me know that that couldn’t be further than the truth. Two points on this: First, it’s been a while since I “inundated” anyone with RTK requests—until this week. And, second, I can now firmly stand here and tell you that it is, in fact, Sheriff Wiggin that either doesn’t read materials he has been given, or “chooses to ignore” it. Allow me to explain…
Many people know Sheriff Wiggin is seeking a grant known as a JAG, (“Justice Assistance Grant”) from the federal government on behalf of Belknap County and six municipalities within. And why not? One of the assets he supposedly brought to the table during the (fatally flawed) appointment process, according to some members of the County Convention, was his grant-writing capability.
This year, extra monies have been pumped into the JAG program as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) or, as it is more commonly called, the “stimulus” package. This is the same grant that would provide the funds for the Laconia PD that I was critical of here in this post several weeks back, noting that the dough has nothing to do with stimulating the economy and is nothing more than a handout used to maintain certain government spending at artificially inflated levels.
Other than one or two news reports of free goodies and training on the way thanks to the goodness of Uncle Sam’s heart, what does the public really know about this grant? Not much, which isn’t the way it’s supposed to work. According to the US Department of Justice, the
“Recovery Act places great emphasis on accountability and transparency in the use of taxpayer dollars.”
In fact, part of the requirements state that the grant application must be
“available for review by its governing body not fewer than 30 days before the application is submitted.”
Remember this date: May 11th, which is the day Wiggin filed the Belknap County application.
In the May 7th Laconia Daily Sun (PDF, page 8,9), reporter Kinney O’Rourke wrote that at a meeting the day before,
“the commissioners were concerned that they could not read the grant application itself.”
This came on the heels of an April 22nd meeting in which Sheriff Wiggin sought the initial grant approval from the County Commissioners sight unseen, stating he needed their approval
“now to meet the deadline and then once the application is submitted on line, he will bring to the Commissioners to approve so they don’t miss the window of opportunity.”
In other words, according to Sheriff Wiggin, we must violate the law guiding the grant because we have a deadline.
This is problematic on multiple levels…
First, when you do the math, you can see that, despite the JAG requirement provided by the DOJ of a review “not fewer than 30 days before the application is submitted,” it was not followed. The application was submitted on May 11th, and the Commissioners did not get a copy to review until May 19th. Secondly, if one follows NH law, only the County Convention—made up of the 18 elected House members from the County—can approve appropriations, both regular, and supplemental, which is in fact what a grant actually is. Never minding the fact that the Commissioners approved this grant they had not even read (Sound familiar? I call this “representation with no representation”), they do not have the power to do this, anyway!
In addition to mandating a review of the grant 30 days BEFORE its submission by the governing body, the JAG requires the
“application must include a statement that the application was made public and that, to the extent of applicable law or established procedure, an opportunity to comment was provided to citizens…”
This did not happen. Oh- Sheriff Wiggin may have claimed it did, and that he complied with ALL the requirements of JAG when he submitted the application to the feds, but it’s quite plain that, despite what he may try to say, he did not.
The erroneous methods employed by Sheriff Wiggin in the course of making the JAG application violate not only federal law, but circumvent the statutory power that is vested in the Convention, the appropriating authority. In this, the Convention MUST re-assert its lawful place as designated by law.
If it is too cumbersome to follow what the law requires, the only option is to change it. To circumvent it and violate it, as has happened at nearly every turn in the 2009 JAG application process thanks to a Sheriff who gave it little to no regard, is unacceptable. Nobody is above the law, especially those who are tasked with upholding it. Given the stated desire to make County government more open and transparent, the conduct put forth by the Sheriff in the pursuit of this year’s JAG grant demonstrates once again that there is still much work to be done. Correcting this latest sorry episode will be one more step in the right direction. The fact the money is “free” doesn’t mean that the laws no longer apply.
The Sheriff’s department website shows an oath that says, in part:
“On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions.”
I am today calling on Sheriff Wiggin to have the courage to hold himself accountable for his actions in this JAG mess…
Given the history of the fiasco that was this sheriff’s appointment to begin with– when the County Convention threw cold water on transparency and the Right-to-Know law, which ended with the Supreme Court’s removal of Sheriff Wiggin from office– you’d think the elected leaders of Belknap County would take every step possible to keep things on a straight and narrow. Sadly, they haven’t. This is the result of years of apathy and indifference by the citizens. The clowns we elect to office can pretty much safely assume they can do anything they want because nobody’s watching. And they’re right, to a certain extent. Then again, it makes things easier for the few of us who really do care– easy pickins, that is. At least here in Belknap County…