Bragdon accepts ethics committee restrictions involving his Senate service, top HealthTrust job
CONCORD-- The state Senate's legal counsel Friday told the Legislative Ethics Committee the conditions it imposed on Sen. Peter Bragdon will set a precedent that could broadly "infringe" on the state's tradition of having part-time, citizen lawmakers who have outside jobs in a variety of fields.
Bragdon Friday accepted sweeping restrictions imposed by the ethics committee to prevent conflict between Bragdon's role as a state senator and his position as executive director of the HealthTrust public employee benefits poll (See story below.)
But at the same time, UnionLeader.com has learned, Senate counsel Richard J. Lehmann, wrote committee chairman Martin Gross Friday that the resolution to two outstanding potential areas of conflict Bragdon accepted on Friday "impose onerous conditions on the Senator's continue(d) service in the Senate."
Lehmann wrote that while he is not attempting to "intervene" directly in the Bragdon matter, "I do with to register my concerns about the impact and precedent that the Committee's proposed informal resolution might have in future complaints that may be brought against other Senators."
At the same time, Lehmann wrote that he hopes "the scope of the proposed conditions (directed at Bragdon) can be refined to more properly reflect the Committee's concerns."
He wrote that "it is particularly important that conditions proposed by the Committee be squarely within the Committee's proper jurisdiction and narrowly tailored to address the matter giving rise to the complaint."
The committee's condition banning Bragdon from participating in any activity that "would have any effect on your employer" is, Lehmann wrote, "exceptionally broad and likely to undermine his ability to represent his constituents effectively if accepted.
"The types of legislation that could have 'any effect" on any senator's employer are too numerous to mention," but could, Lehmann wrote, include bill addressing sex discrimination in the workplace, the minimum wage and employee free speech rights _ bills that could affect all businesses.
"(T)he Committee would effectively preclude (Bragdon) from acting on a large percentage of the business that comes before" the Legislature, Lehmann wrote.
And by proposing that Bragdon restructure his employment agreement with HealthTrust to ensure that he does not breach the conditions, "the Committee assumes the authority to reach out into the non-legislative activities of the Senator and control them."
Lehmann asks to discuss the issue with the committee "so that the ability of citizens now and in the future to serve in the legislature while also being employed is not unduly infringed."
Bragdon said the restrictions "mirror the practices I have already instituted and pledged to follow" when he took the job last summer.
The ethics committee, acting on a complaint by state Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, cleared the Milford Republican and former Senate President of any intentional activity that resulted in conflicts between his $180,000-a-year post at HealthTrust and his role as a senator.
But the seven-member committee, acting unanimously, told Bragdon earlier this month that in the future he must "not take part in any official activity that concerns, involved or would have any effect on your employer."
The committee also told Bragdon that he should not participate in any HealthTrust consideration or decision-making process" on any matter that involves legislative consideration, and he should not participate in any HealthTrust "consideration, decision-making or communications with the state's regulatory officials who deal with the risk pool."
Bragdon's attorney, Russell Hilliard wrote to the panel last week that the conditions are "overbroad and unnecessary" and asked for clarifications. He wrote, for instance, that some legislation "applies generally to employers and nonprofits such as HealthTrust and not in any particular fashion to HealthTrust."
But ethics committee chairman Martin L. Gross, a prominent Concord attorney, wrote back on Monday, "If Senator Bragdon believes the conditions are unacceptable, and if chooses to remain a member of the Senate, the Committee will go forward by issuing written formal charges and scheduling a hearing to determine the merits of the allegations."
"The conditions were not offered as a starting point for further negotiations," Gross wrote to Hilliard, "but rather to afford Senator Bragdon the opportunity to avoid a formal proceeding to consider the two allegations that the Committee's Preliminary Investigation indicated would be supported by clear and convincing evidence."
Bragdon's initial reaction Monday to the sharply-worded letter was, "No comment at this time. I will be discussing this matter with attorney Hilliard and trying to figure out why I am being treated differently than other legislators who are employed."
Friday, however, Bragdon issued a statement that he has "accepted the 'informal resolution' proposal from the Legislative Ethics Committee" and said it "appears to mirror the practices I have already instituted and pledged to follow when I became the executive director of HealthTrust."
Bragdon continued, "It is important to point out that the Legislative Ethics Committee did not find there had been any ethics violation on my part.
"The committee's proposal serves only to reinforce those steps I have taken to separate myself from state matters involving my employer," he wrote.
Gross had noted that Bragdon recently filed an "incomplete" declaration under the ethics guidelines, "in which he identified the Medicaid bills as involving a conflict with his employment, but then participated in voting on them. He did this notwithstanding previous assurance to the Committee that he would not participate in any matter involving his employer."
Bragdon in his Friday statement, wrote, "I understand there was some confusion on my part about the role of the 'Declaration of Intent' form and the message it conveyed, and I apologize for any misunderstandings that may have caused."
"I thank Chairman Gross and the other committee members for their work to bring this matter to a close," Bragdon wrote. "I also thank my attorney, former Legislative Ethics Committee Chairman Russell Hilliard, for his invaluable assistance in understanding the process."
Bragdon, accepted the HealthTrust post last summer and then stepped down as state Senate President, but stayed on as a rank-and-file senator.
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