CONCORD — The Legislative Ethics committee needs additional information on how a former Senate president came to be executive director of the Local Government Center.
A letter from the committee’s chairman Marty Gross was sent to Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and his attorney Tuesday, after a 6-0 vote Monday to open a preliminary investigation.
Gross said his letter outlines the issues the committee would like addressed and sets a Nov. 12 deadline for a response.
“This is strictly an information gathering process,” Gross said Tuesday, “and no finding of wrong doing on the part of anybody.”
State Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, filed a complaint Oct. 1 alleging Bragdon violated both legislative ethics guidelines and state law in taking the $180,000-a-year position with the LGC, which has since reorganized.
When Bragdon accepted the position Aug. 14, he was Senate president, but amid criticism over the potential conflicts of interest said he would step aside.
At the time, Bragdon said he did not want to tarnish the Senate’s image or cause anyone to question the Upper Chamber’s integrity or transparency. He remains the District 11 senator.
Watrous claims in his complaint that when Bragdon took the position, he in essence took an illegal gift from the organization that represents municipalities and provides health, liability, property and worker’s compensation insurance to cities, towns, school districts and counties.
“Bragdon should not have used his public office to attain the job’s considerable personal benefits. Accepting such a thing of value from an organization with so much financial and legal business before the state is prohibited by the Ethics Guidelines and RSA 15-B,” Watrous said. “As long as Bragdon maintains both his Senate seat and his position as LGC executive director, Bragdon will violate the Ethics Guidelines Principal of Public Service by having conflicts of interests and real and apparent improper influences.”
But Bragdon said he followed all the procedures and laws in taking the position, noting he has said repeatedly he would recuse himself from any legislation issue or discussions about the organization and its public risk pools.
“The record will clearly show that I was hired to provide organization leadership and not to influence legislation,” Bragdon said.
In a letter to the committee dated Oct. 16, Bragdon’s attorney, former Legislative Ethics Committee chair, Russell Hilliard, said his client violated neither state law nor the ethic guidelines.
“The complaint alleges that Senator Bragdon violated the principals of public service and the ethics guidelines, including the prohibited activities provisions, and the statutory prohibition on gifts,” Hilliard wrote. “These allegations are not true.”
Ethics complaints are confidential, both for the person making the complaint and the subject of the complaint, until the committee decides to open an investigation. After that the information is public as is subsequent information gathered during the investigation.
“The committee decided it really had to have more information to knowledgably determine the issues raised in the complaint,” Gross said. “We concluded the only permissible way to get that information was to open a preliminary investigation so we could ask questions.”
He said once the committee has the information it seeks, it will decide how to proceed, but noted nothing has been scheduled as yet.