Tales from the BudComm: Cordell Johnston, NHMA lobbyist - tried to fly and ended up like Icarus - Granite Grok

Tales from the BudComm: Cordell Johnston, NHMA lobbyist – tried to fly and ended up like Icarus

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When an NHMA lobbyist, paid in part by my taxes, is lobbying AGAINST MY BEST interests, that’s wrong.  It’s immoral.  That’s why Cordell Johnston, a New Hampshire Municipal Association lobbyist – is now the Poster Boy for towns to stop paying dues to the New Hampshire Municipal Association with our property taxes.

If our Selectmen had been in Room 304 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord NH around 10:15am, they’d see that they would be getting more value by burning that money in a barrel for warmth (that’s more than a hint, Chan Eddy, Rags Grenier, and Gus Benevides).

I have been hearing stories for years about the NHMA arguing against taxpayer’s best interests.  Today, I saw first hand how my tax monies were used against me even as I was defending municipal Budget Committees via a needed and necessary technical fix to the Dept of Revenue Administration’s MS-Forms.

The hearing on HB576, a bill to rectify that disconnect between the budgets that BudComms present to the local voters (“the Legislative Body”) and the Dept. of Revenue Administration’s MS-Forms (that can obviate entirely the work of BudComms and the local voters approval) was held today from about 10 am to about 10:30 am.  The prime sponsor of the bill, NH State Rep Glen Aldrich, yielded the floor to me to go testify for the bill.  After passing out my written testimony, I then extemporaneously paraphrased it so as to save time.  I took a few questions, answered them, and handled a few objections by pointing out what the bill would actually do and not do. Finishing up, I thanked the Committee for its time.

Enter, Stage Clueless, Cordell Johnston came in – a Princeton man and, again to my chagrin, a poor example of my alma mater, Boston University (the Law School).  It was clear that this tremendously bright bulb waltzed in, demonstrably unprepared, and attempted to blow F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) style verbiage up the NH Municipal and County Committee Representative members’ collective butts. He didn’t know what he was talking about, it was clear that he hadn’t read the details of the bill, that he was desperately trying to double-back quote my testimony into “vague”, “unclear”, and “too complicated” canyons so as to paint the bill to be unworthy of the Committee’s time and that I was a fool to have even attempt something like this.

Normally, these taxpayer-funded lobbyists are prepared, have written testimony for their points, and provide a reasonable (even if I disagree with them) arguments to buttress their position. Not this clown car driver. Instead, he tried to wing it and ended up like the failed flyer in Greek Mythology, Icarus. In trying to soar, he fell to earth. Unlike Icarus, who actually took flight and fell to earth because he successfully soared very high but got too close to the Sun and his rig burned up, this guy couldn’t even buckle on his harness right.

Now, to set the stage, Budget Committee members are generally hardworking, put in a lot of time to learn how their towns and school districts operate, and then spend a lot of time on examining the tens, hundreds or thousands of detailed General Ledger line items that make up departmental budgets covering everything from pencils to shiny new fire engines; from pennies to millions of dollars of expenditures.  And then comparing them all to previous years budgets. Why do I say this?

He started off with “this bill is confusing“; I guess he had nothing else to say of substance.  The bill itself contains ONE new standalone sentence.  It contains sentences that have changes in them.  Nice going, sport – you just called a whole lot of people, almost all of them volunteers, STUPID.  You said that they wouldn’t “get it”.  I just have two STEM degrees from BU – you’re a Princeton man and a lawyer. Tell me again WHY it was confusing?  You said it, but then didn’t say anything to back it up.  Not one jot, not one tittle.  We’re supposed to accept that – that you, someone that has presumably based the Bar, used that as your sole argument and we’re supposed to blindly accept it?

Actually, not – he also said that the bill had another flaw – the idea of a ‘new concept, this “Budget Committee Exception Report’ as if bills have never, ever had “new concepts” in them.  Heck, at one time, the entirety of RSA32, the statute that this bill modifies, was a “new concept”; go figure. How quaint – how trite of him – how condescending of him in believing that never would a BudComm member be able to figure out “a new concept“?

I had already explained this would be a very simple spreadsheet-like form, with a few rows, with each row having:

  • The GL account number
  • That line’s purpose / description
  • The amount that was associated with it to be spent
  • A “checkoff” that the BudComm has zeroed that line

Like this:

35000-45-976-4115    NH Municipal Association Dues             $9,765        Denied
69000-32-679-4115    NH School Board Association Dues       $12,538      Denied

So tell me – how hard is this to understand?

But the fact that a “new concept” to be associated with this bill, how does this make this something that makes this bill inexpedient to pass? How hard is that to understand for people used to pouring over hundreds / thousands of similar lines in a budget? Now take the case of those that are newly elected to budget committees, who are not accountants or business or project managers used to managing budgets. Mr. Johnston, how are THEY  able to learn all the “new concepts to them” at the start of their first term to take on these new responsibilities?

Two things, two very condescending things that this implies:

In short, you’re too stupid.  Dumb as a rock, dim as a turned off light, less heat than a stove without gas, and slower than a car with a dead battery.  Nice.

Local“.

During my testimony, I had used an example of a new telephone system purchase that shouldn’t have been purchased – it was a “local” issue but only used for an example. So this Mr. Cordell Johnston, contra to my previous testimony, left the innuendo in the air that this was a merely a singular local issue and why bother as it isn’t a State-wide issue?  Again, however, he just left that in the air with NO corroborating data to back up his assertions of “local only”.

Then he continued with the Timothy Horrigan

Sidenote: an uber progressive State Representative that often comments here by stating something that is technically correct but completely off topic)

style idiocy by proclaiming that the line levels on the MS-Forms are “general“.  Well, Dr. Obvious, thanks for repeating and amplifying MY testimony of the actually problem!  It is BECAUSE they are general (re: aggregated and rolled up totals of the lower level General Ledger line items) that this problem exists! However, he said that with the innuendo that it’s a feature – deal with it. It’s general because it’s general because GENERAL.  Again, such a great rhetorical style of debating – it is because I say it is.

And then the last argument and one that really is the telling one of where his loyalty lies: micromanagement.  One should never, EVER question, even the slightest, the composition and amount of a Selectmen or School Board’s budget.  It just isn’t done.  After all, didn’t they get at least one more vote than the other guy – I guess that means that in Cordell Johnston’s view (and that of the NH Municipal Association), that makes them financial geniuses and always above board.

I’m sitting here grinning ear to ear as I write the above because I know this guy:

Cordell Johnston, I know Ed Naile.  I can tell you that you’re no chainsaw wielding Ed Naile (Chair of CNHT) and slayer of pompous selectmen, school boards….and lawyers. His life’s work is showing that they aren’t geniuses and many are so far below board, they’re friends with moles that at least damage only lawns. Selectmen can damage entire towns and School Boards can ruin kids lives. And so do lawyers that enable those behaviors.

Not only that, by DEFINITION, that’s what BudComms have to do – micromanagement of budgets. That’s why we are elected We’re not allowed to just add to or subtract from the total amounts of budgets – we ARE required to go line by line  and make changes.  Cordell Johnston, you are in desperate need to “learn a new concept“; you need to watch this:

But “micromanagement” means that every single line item is reviewed, debated, and voted upon. No, a BudComm does not set operational policy but it does set fiscal policy.  That’s our role and that’s our RSA mandate.  That’s what we are elected to do and your attempt to sideswipe that either:

  • shows a complete lack of understanding of how the process is to carried out
  • to throw shade because YOU HAD NOTHING.  Nothing at all to fall back on

In fact, like the other things he threw out, there was no explanation, there was no exposition as to what and why of “micromanagement”. He didn’t hold forth where in the RSAs that was forbidden (er, they actually state the opposite).  Nothing – nothing at all. I would have fired his butt right then and there.  It’s a good thing he’s a lobbyist because I’m quite sure (even as I am NOT a lawyer and don’t play one here on the ‘Grok) any competent judge would have either thrown him out of the courtroom or had the bailiff laughingly put him in a cell for utter contempt of court for an “F” performance.

Yes, I have to admit, Johnston made Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez sound like a Mensa member by comparison.

But he did one thing right – he kept referring back to “the previous speaker”.  Ayup – multiple times.  He opened a door that he shouldn’t have.

Now, I WAS the only speaker before him. In fact, he and I were the only speakers – but he couldn’t even remember my name (or write it down).  But he did say that phrase often. Often enough to have screwed up.  Screwed up enough such that when he was finished and had walked away from the witness table, the Chairman of the Committee, NH Representative Clyde Carson (D-Warner) recognized me as I raised my hand and allowed me to have “a second bite at the apple”. I then carefully went through each and every objection Johnston had raised and answered them, answered them in detail, and answered them with examples. I also ended up taking more questions from the Committee members.

Sidenote: Chairman Carson didn’t have to give me that second chance but he did and did so in a gracious way. I chalk it up that Johnston had made so many allegations that had no substance, it was the right thing to have done.  Thank you; much appreciated.

Johnston walked out while I was still talking.

So what was Cordell Johnston’s bottom line?  That NO ONE, NO THING, should ever challenge the power and authority of a Governing Body (Selectmen, School Board).  Not the town’s interests, not the other elected boards or commissions comprised of fellow townfolk, and not the town’s overall interests. Or smoothing out a flawed budget process.  He came in because my bill does limit the Governing Body’s power to blithely do what they want: NO cannot mean NO. That power shift, even as little as what HB576 does, cannot be allowed.

Actually, that analysis isn’t quite right – their real issue is that THEY, the NHMA, should never be presented a challenge that would cut off their revenue stream.

Even if it is funded by my property taxes and your’s.  Even if their interests run counter to the taxpayers’. They’ve aligned their interests with the Governing Bodies – or is it the other way around?

That can’t be allowed either.

Let’s see – if they are paid by taxpayer monies, that makes them subject to RSA 91:A demands, doesn’t it?

I’ll ask Ed Naile.