As reported in yesterday’s Daily Sun [PDF], Belknap County has once again decided to go the hard route with former Laconia Mayor Tom Tardif and yours truly, declaring that the two of us “don’t know what” we’re “talking about.” While that sentiment as expressed in the front page headline has no doubt excited certain people that love to degrade those who dare criticize local government, the fact remains that, if anything, the story actually vindicates us and the points we have raised.
First, let’s review a little history… When Tom and I questioned the legality of the appointment process used to replace Sheriff Collis, county “leaders” circled the wagons, going to the mat (and all the way to the NH Supreme Court) to prove us wrong. We all know how that ended—with the removal of the Sheriff, and compliance with law in the subsequent appointment of a new Registrar of Deeds. Yep–We won at the highest court in the state, against a lawyer paid for with our tax dollars, but we didn’t know what we were talking about…
Then there was the time that the County Convention (comprised of the delegation of 18 House members from Belknap County) forgot to have a public hearing on the budget. That little fiasco caused the county to adopt a “default” budget for the first time in memory. Funny, they did it the right way this year. Imagine that? Why would anyone do anything suggested by two clowns that don’t know what they’re talking about? It was around that time that the same pair enlightened county “leaders” as to the meaning and proper procedures needed to create and approve a supplemental budget.
And let’s not forget that occasion when Belknap County decided to borrow monies in anticipation of taxes to cover expenses. While Tom Tardif and I were studying the laws on such a matter, the county “leaders” were apparently otherwise occupied trying to do damage control after the head of finance and administration finally got caught with her fingers in the proverbial cookie jar.
Unfortunately for them, SOMEBODY should have been doing the same research as we were, because, as you might recall, they had to go back to the drawing board and do it, yes, you guessed it—OUR WAY. While claiming we weren’t really right, they followed the procedure as outlined by Tom and me in correspondence with the Convention, the bond counsel law firm, the NH Attorney General’s office, the NH Department of Revenue and the County Treasurer. In other words, this time, they would follow the law.
Fast forward to the present…When it comes to the federal dough (Recovery Act “stimulus” funds) flowing into local law enforcement agencies via the 2009 JAG grant program, it sure would be nice to know if the correct state and federal procedures to add these new monies for budgetary spending were used anywhere, be it here in the Granite State, or throughout the country. The NH Attorney General’s website has the methods by which a New Hampshire TOWN must do a supplemental appropriation when it comes to receiving grants, but is silent on sheriff’s departments and, more specifically, counties.
The letter that Mr. Tardif and I addressed to the County Convention last week outlined the basic problem as the process was conducted by the Belknap County Sheriff. Unlike the law for towns, (RSA 31:95-b) the county has no “go-around” clause for supplemental appropriations & MUST follow existing laws that call for approval by the County Convention as the governing body, not the Commissioners. In this, we are once again shown to be right, as yesterday’s Daily Sun story stated that the
“commissioners have also agreed to seek supplemental appropriation approval as required by state statute should the JAG grant request be funded."
Would this have happened had Tom and I not raised the issue? But we don’t know what we’re talking about, otherwise…
Beyond that, the other big piece to this is the TRANSPARENCY angle. “Oh, Doug, Obama’s gonna make it right– You know, the “new transparency movement” blah-blah and all that!” And indeed, the JAG really does call for transparency. The big question is what happens when it is ignored, as is the case here in Belknap?
Let me remind you again what the JAG says, irrespective of whether the application deadline has been changed or not: The applicant
“must make the grant application available for review by its governing body not fewer than 30 days before the application is submitted to BJA.”
The May 7th Daily Sun reported that at their meeting the day before,
“all the commissioners were concerned that they could not read the grant application itself. Wiggin explained that the application process was conducted entirely on-line, making it impossible to provide the commissioners with a copy of the document until after it was actually submitted to the justice Department.”
The application was submitted on 11 May, 2009, and copies were not made available, according to a conversation with Administrator Debra Shackett, to County Commissioners until May 19th. Hardly “not fewer than 30 days before the application” was submitted. In fact, the Commissioners—who are not the final governing body—didn’t see it until a week AFTER. This hardly comes close to following the letter, or the spirit, of the oversight and accountability supposedly called by the law guiding the grant.
As to the news that the County will now accept public input despite the fact that the grant has already been long-submitted, what can I say? Until we went into the County armed with Right-to-Know requests followed by some publicity and now back-pedaling by the administration and Commissioners, who knew? Other than a few stories about goodies coming courtesy of the generous federal government (using borrowed money our great grandchildren will still be paying for through inherited national debt), the public remained unaware that the JAG/ Recovery Act clearly states that 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 the citizens and neighborhood or community organizations.”
That never happened.
The County, announcing yesterday they would take public input from now until June 11, seems to think that this will fix their lack of adherence to this plainly stated requirement– that our sheriff swore, under penalty of law, happened. And they were probably going to do that all along, right? Tom and I were simply a week too soon. Silly us—I guess we just don’t know anything!
All of this is important because it demonstrates that, to the government types, when it comes to “free” money, the ends justify the means. When Joe or Jane Sixpack breaks the law, well, then they MUST pay a price. Not government, though. They get caught, engage in a little CYA with help from their buddies up and down the food chain, get their story straight, and stick with it. What a system! But what do I know?