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October 07. 2012 9:07PM

Hillsborough County sheriff candidate decries hiring of deputy


JAMES A. H 

MANCHESTER — When Hillsborough County Sheriff James A. Hardy reorganized his office late last year after the county delegation slashed close to $400,000 from his budget, he hired newly retired Dunbarton Police Chief Christopher Connelly and made him his part-time, $62,408-a-year chief deputy.

Connelly works 32 hours a week, entitling him to health insurance and other benefits, and has a cruiser he drives to and from work each day.

He also collects an annual pension of $50,232 from the New Hampshire Retirement System as long as he does not work more than 32 hours weekly.

Hardy says he sought out Connelly for his chief deputy because of his experience. Connelly once worked as a deputy, was a Goffstown police officer and then moved on to the Dunbarton Police Department, where he became chief.

Hardy denies he reduced the chief deputy's hours to accommodate Connelly, who he has known for years and who has worked on his election campaigns. He said it was part of the department's restructuring because of budget cuts.

Six percent of salaries and wages were cut while the overall operation saw a 17 percent cut, he says.

According to salary figures provided by County Administrator Gregory J. Wenger, the full-time chief deputy position previously was paid $78,000 a year and the captain's position, which was part-time, carried a salary of $54,416, for a total of $132,416.

With the restructuring, Connelly earns $62,408 yearly and the now full-time captain is paid $75,982, for a total of $138,390, about a $6,000 increase.

Connelly earns $2,408 more as a part-time deputy than the sheriff, who, by state statute, is paid $60,000 annually.

“It was a sneaky move,” said Democrat Bill Barry of Manchester, who retired last year after 26 years in the sheriff's office and who is trying to unseat his former boss.

He said Hardy hired Connelly and tried to call it a restructuring.

Barry said Hardy holds himself out to be a fiscal conservative but in reorganizing his department he did it at the expense of two of the lowest paid workers, both women.

“I think the big story here is he cut 10 hours from two women, the lowest on the totem pole, to save about $10,000,” Barry said. “On the other hand, he hired his campaign friend, the retired Dunbarton police chief, who he knows has a limit of 32 hours a week.”

The sad part about it all, Barry said, is those two administrative support workers needed the hours because their husbands were out of work and disabled. The cuts, he said, saved between $8,000 to $10,000 a year, enough to cover the extra $6,000 paid Connelly.

Hardy maintains the focus should be on the full restructuring and not just one position.

“Change sometimes creates dissension but I have made the difficult choices for the benefit of the taxpayer,” says Hardy, who has been with the sheriff's department for 31 years and is in his 10th year as sheriff.

He said he made $169,643 in cuts to salaries, some the result of hiring personnel at lower wages after the retirement of two lieutenants and two deputies; eliminating one of the lieutenant's jobs, and cutting $29,000 in equipment (one car).

The sheriff's department, Hardy said, receives drug forfeiture funds from the federal government because it has a deputy assigned to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas task force.

The funds can be used to purchase weapons and vehicles, which resulted in the county delegation putting nothing in the line item for fiscal year 2012.

Hardy said he had to make difficult choices and cut the hours for those positions from 40 to 35, still enabling both employees to qualify for health insurance benefits.

Barry said Connelly isn't the only part-timer with a cruiser. Two other deputies, who have been with the sheriff's department for years, each work only a couple of days a week but are assigned their own cruisers, which they drive to and from home and keep at their residences seven days a week.

Hardy says the cruisers are assigned based on operational needs. Deputies have cruisers at their homes, he says, to allow them to respond to emergencies more quickly, such as recent flooding; to cover for troopers called to other incidents, such as the Greenland shooting of the police chief and other officers or to cover for Manchester officers investigating the shooting of Officer Daniel Doherty.

Barry said while Connelly may be called out to an emergency, because he is second in command, part-time deputies are not. Only full-time deputies are called, he said.

Barry does not object to Connelly being assigned a cruiser, because he works 32 hours and is the chief deputy. But the other two part-time deputies work only about two days a week each, he said, and one is in an administrative job in dispatch while the other transports prisoners. There is no reason for them to have cruisers, he said.

“He cannot justify giving two part-time employees cruisers – and nothing against them, they'd be crazy not to take the deal,” Barry said. “They are working a couple of days a week and these cruisers are at their homes seven days a week.”

While Barry is calling out Hardy for bringing in a retired police chief, who gets a salary and a pension, he is a “double dipper” himself, receiving a pension from the sheriff's department while working part-time at the Auburn Police Department.

If elected sheriff, he still would collect a pension, heading the same department in which he earned it.

Barry said the difference is it would be an elected position, not an appointed position.

Hardy has run into a problem in cutting the hours of one of the administrative support staff. The Secretary II position is a union job covered under a contract with the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, Local 3657.

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the sheriff because, it argued, the Secretary II job is to be a full-time position

In a Public Employees Labor Relations Board ruling on Aug. 31, an arbitrator ruled in the union's favor and said the sheriff committed an unfair labor practice.

More than a month later, however, the position has not been filled with a full-time employee. Hardy said the delegation did not fund the position and that the work was reassigned with a part-timer doing some of it.

pgrossmith@unionleader.com


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