Saturday, January 30, 2010

Everyone has the Right to Know

Everyone has a right to know how their taxes are being spent. Every school, city and town as well as the federal government should allow access to the taxpayers via a website how the people's tax dollars are being spent. Peyton Wolcott's website will show you how to ask your school to be fiscally transparent. Too bad it is not happening here in Croydon, Jim has asked numerous times for the information but Jim Vezina has not given him said information.

Hurrah for the State Supreme Court ultimately these monies started out as tax dollars and we should know how they are being spent.

The following piece appears in the Union Leader. Be sure to visit the Union Leader website to see the great links.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

Benefits manager ordered to unveil payroll
State House Bureau Chief

CONCORD – A state Supreme Court ruling yesterday forced the Local Government Center to disclose salary information revealing 18 of its top employees make more than $80,000 a year.

The Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire fought the center, which manages health insurance for about 76,000 New Hampshire public workers — including local police, firefighters and teachers — for the information.

In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court agreed with the firefighters that the center, funded by member towns and cities, is a public agency covered by the state’s Right-to-Know law.

“Knowing how a public body is spending taxpayer money in conducting public business is essential to the transparency of government, the very purpose underlying the Right-to-Know law,” the court said in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Broderick.

He noted the center “is subsidized by money generated through tax collection.”

►List of Local Government Center salaries
►State eyes court fight with Local Government Center

In 2007, the center released general salary information to the firefighters group that showed 112 full-time workers made salaries totaling $6.1 million.

The center’s entities include the New Hampshire Municipal Association, LGC HealthTrust, LGC Real Estate, LGC Property-Liability Trust and LGC Workers Compensation Trust.

Seven center executives make more than $100,000, including Maura Carroll, interim executive director, $189,200; Sandal Keeffe, chief financial officer and deputy director, $171,960; Wendy Parker, assistant executive director for risk services, $166,994; Jonathan Steiner, assistant executive director for member relations, $138,775; and Judy Silva, assistant director for legal services and government affairs, $122,000.

Carroll said yesterday the case was about providing more clarity on the center’s status.

“It’s never been about hiding anything. It’s always been about making sure we follow the law appropriately, and in several instances the law has not been clear,” Carroll said.

The firefighters won a Supreme Court case in 2004 that gave them access to the records. The center held off releasing information, however, after it reorganized itself internally shortly after the decision and raised questions about which of its new entities were subject to the public records law.

“We need to open the doors, throw the curtain back and let the sunshine in to let the public have access and look at where they are spending their money,’’ Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire President David Lang said. “My fear is this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Lang said he wants to look at how an operation that collects less than $1 million in dues from member cities and towns can have a payroll that exceeds $6 million. He said it seems to him that money towns pay for health insurance is going toward other costs, including lobbying the Legislature.

Carroll said the center provides coverage to 76,000 public workers and collects more than $300 million in premiums annually.

The center transferred $14.5 million, about 1 percent of employer insurance premiums, out of HealthTrust between 2004 and 2008, Carroll said. The transfers funded a strategic review of operations, marketing and membership work and development of new programs, she said.

Lang argues the transfers were illegal and that all the money needs to be put back into the HealthTrust account.

Now that the court has ruled the center and its other operations are public, Lang said, he will file more requests for information, including details about benefits and retirement packages.The center’s former executive director, John Andrews, retired recently after overseeing much of the growth of the New Hampshire Municipal Association and then the center.

In addition to the firefighters’ suit, the center is under scrutiny by the state Bureau of Securities Regulation, which subpoenaed three years of the center’s records.

The bureau is investigating a private complaint to its office that the center intermingled health insurance premium money with its other operations.

Subpoenaed documents include all financial records and a list of all employees and their duties with each center sub-agency.

A change in state law took effect in July that gave the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees the bureau, regulatory power over the agency. Prior to that, no state department had any oversight of risk pool management agencies like the center.

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