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January 27. 2014 3:42PM

Ethics panel finds Bragdon did not use his Senate post to get $180k LGC job

CONCORD -- The Legislative Ethics Committee decided Monday that state Sen. Peter Bragdon did not use his powerful legislative post to obtain a $180,000-a-year job heading the former Local Government Center, now the HealthTrust, Inc. risk pool.

The seven-member committee unanimously found a lack of "clear and convincing evidence" to warrant further investigation of three of five conflict-related allegations leveled against the Milford Republican.

The panel decided to seek "informal resolution" of the other two by demanding that Bragdon take some actions, yet to be specified in a letter to Bragdon that will be eventually made public.

The findings were announced by committee chairman Martin L. Gross, a Concord attorney, in public session after the panel deliberated behind closed doors for two-and-a-half hours on whether to proceed with a full-blown probe and hearing.

A "very relieved" Bragdon said he has always followed ethics rules and guidelines, said his position has been "vindicated" and said he will consider the action recommended by the committee when he receives its letter.

Bragdon resigned as Senate President shortly after taking the LGC executive director's job last summer, but he still serves as a state senator.

Shortly after Bragdon took the job, state Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, filed five allegations against Bragdon alleging he violated a state law and ethics guidelines.

Watrous charged that 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 guidelines and law.

"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," Watrous wrote. "Whenever any state business with the LGC (now HealthTrust, Inc.) occurs, citizens may rightfully wonder: is Bragdon acting for the public interest or for the interest of the LGC? Is Bragdon using his position in the Senate to advance the goals of the LGC?"

Watrous noted in his charges that while being considered for the LGC post, Bragdon appointed fellow Republican Sen. Jeanie Forrester to a committee to review a state Bureau of Securities Regulation hearing officer's report regarding the LGC.
 
After Monday’s decision, Watrous said: "I am disappointed that the Legislative Ethics Committee failed to launch a formal inquiry into these serious charges. It is a sad day for the integrity of the New Hampshire State House."
 
Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court ruled upheld the Bureau of Securities Regulations' order last year that the LGC return to its members $33 million left over after it paid claims and administration costs.

The ethics committee voted 7-0 to dismiss and not proceed with a full-blown probe, due to "lack of clear and convincing evidence," into allegations that Bragdon:

- knew or believed that the LGC's purpose in recruiting him for the executive director's post was to "influence" his "official activity" as a state senator.

- used his official position as a state senator "to obtain employment with LGC/HealthTrust."

- and used his post as Senate President to "enhance his prospects of employment" by appointing Forrester to chair the special Senate committee reviewing the securities bureau report on LGC.

On the two other allegations, the committee found that if Bragdon committed violations, the evidence showed that it was "inadvertent" on his part, and he will be told to take corrective action through an official Ethics Committee option called "informal resolution."

Those allegations were that Bragdon:

- knew or believed that LGC/Health Trust "was or was likely to become subject to or interested in any matter or action pending before or contemplated" by the Legislature, and that

- his salary from the LGC/HealthTrust "was not 'unrelated' to his position as a member of the Senate."

Gross pointed out that the Procedural Rules of the Legislative Ethics Committee say that if the panel's investigation "does not disclose sufficient cause to warrant further proceedings, the committee shall dismiss the complaint," or, "In other cases not thought to merit the presentation of formal charges and hearing, the committee may informally resolve the matter with the consent of the legislator.

"Such informal resolution may take the form of written advice or admonishment, the requirement of remedial action, or the imposition of conditions, or any combination thereof," according to the rule cited by Gross.

Gross said a written report on the committee's investigation, describing the reason for each vote, will be issued in about a week.

He also said that on the two areas requiring informal resolution, "draft letters of caution," which will be made public, will be sent to Bragdon "requiring certain steps on his part."

Gross said Bragdon "will be invited to consent to informal resolution because his consent is necessary."

Gross said that if Bragdon does not consent to the action demanded by the committee, then the panel will return to formal session and "deal with those allegations."

He could not detail the timeline for that process, but said Bragdon will be given "some reasonable opportunity" to consider it.

Bragdon said the committee's overall action "vindicated my position" and he was "very relieved that the subject is either closed or heading toward closure."

He said he was "quite pleased at the unanimous dismissal of three of the counts," and, "It seems like with the remaining counts, they said that if there was a violation, it was inadvertent and I will work to make sure those are addressed.

"I try my best to conform with all ethics laws and guidelines, which I must say are Byzantine," Bragdon said. "They are a complex maze of rules and statutes, and sometimes they are contradictory to each other."

On the informal resolution requests, Bragdon said, "We'll certainly sit down and see what it is they are asking and how they are looking at things."

He said he wants to know "specifically what they are concerned about. It is worth sitting down to see what that is, and I plan to comport with all rules and regulations."


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