by Ed Naile
Since being invited a few weeks ago to a press conference with Governor Benson regarding voter registration then watching the event become a harangue by certain members of the “press” against the Governor about “Choicelinx,” I decided to get a copy of the Attorney General’s Report, Re: Choicelinx and Related Matters.
I find it very interesting reading as a member of a taxpayer organization interested in how tax dollars get spent by our huge departments of state government such as the Insurance Commission.
Normally, The Coalition of NH Taxpayers delves into school and town budgets but Choicelinx is a rare opportunity to peek inside state government, insider politics, the State Employee Association and what passes for “press” here in NH.
I will try to keep it as simple as my bumper sticker brain can absorb so I can relate the “scandal” to you in taxpayer terms.
Way back in 2001 before Gov. Benson came to town we had a blossoming insurance service business called Choicelinx. The company was started by Donna Lencki a former consultant for the NH Department of Insurance. Just to keep it simple I will refer to her with a new first name, “Insider.”
Along with Insider Lencki we have a long time friend of, and former chief negotiator for, the SEA, Insider Chris Henchey, who helped Insider Lencki co-found Choicelinx.
Insiders, Lencki and Henchey created through Choicelinx a software product geared towards NH’s employee benefits management system, (don’t go to sleep yet) and peddled it to the Shaheen administration. Surprise! People who work in or around state government come up with a money making venture involving a sale to state government to enrich themselves. I am shocked, breathless.
I am also shocked that Insider Henchey had several discussions with SEA officials such as Insider Richard Molan, another chief negotiator for the SEA, in the fall of 2002, before Benson was elected. According to the AG’s report, everyone involved was happy and things were looking good for a Choicelinx contract with the state. So insiders, working with insiders cooked up a good deal for everyone. Another surprise and probably a first in NH state government, no wait, there was former Chief Justice Brock and that divorce, impeachment thing.
And then came the “Outsiders” Linda Pepin and Joe D’Alessandro. “Outsider” Joe D. was an appointee, “outsider” Linda P. was a “volunteer,” both were from the business world, not state government, and horror among horrors, they were both former Cabletron employees! (unfamiliar with state insider protocol it may be assumed).
The “Outsiders,” Linda P. and Joe D., became part of a negotiating team and were presented by none other than Insider Molan of the SEA with a new software product……. Choicelinx! “Outsider” Linda P. returned the favor on April 22, 2003 and invited Insider Henchey to demonstrate Choicelinx before several other “Insiders” from the SEA, all were impressed. The plot is stirred and thickens. (shorthand for get your own report and read the boring part)
“At some point” so says the AG report, Administrative Services Commissioner (30 years) Insider Don Hill is presented with Choicelinx. “The date and content of, and participants in, that discussion are somewhat unclear,” says the AG report. (Why does that surprise me.) There were numerous Insiders and both Outsiders involved in the selection of Choicelinx and in the end it was agreed to pursue the contract.
This is the point that gets interesting to me. Right now in this stage of the contract, Insider Hill has the authority to order a (“RFP”) Request for Proposal. In other words, put the insider deal “out to bid.” This would be common procedure with a service contract of this size. But for some reason he doesn’t. Insider Hill was happy to rely on “contacts” supposedly made by Outsider Linda P. So if anyone dropped the ball on getting outside “bids’ it was Commissioner Don Hill. With everyone knowing everyone so closely and the SEA being happy with their own people creating the Choicelinx product I guess it looked ok. “Contacts” was not defined but and “RFP” was definitely not happening.
It was also included in the AG report that Insider Don Hill did not request any background or financial information about Choicelinx in this case as he has in the past. I would assume he was comfortable with his knowledge of the Choicelinx Insiders. This is why it was so unimportant to put it out for bid or get written information from potential competitors at this time. The Choicelinx Insider contract was presented to the executive council and governor on June 18, 2003 and was approved. (like any other product stood a chance)
Enter the “Investigative Reporter” from NH Public Radio, Josh Rodgers who questioned Insider Hill about the Choicelinx deal. Insider Hill questions Outsider Joe D’Allessandro about the lack of contacts of other competitors to Choicelinx. Suddenly the non-bid is important because the “press’ is snooping around. And it isn’t just any press, its New Hampshire Public Radio, Chief Investigative Reporter, Josh Rodgers, digger up of dirt and ink stained wretch who never lets corruption slip by his nose for news. (laugh track here)
Just in case you didn’t know, Josh’s mother used to be the NH State Insurance Commissioner until Governor Benson was elected and replaced her, let’s say, abruptly. So it seems the Choicelinx “scandal” has another “Insider” by relation. Kind of a “Nose Out of Joint News Nepotism.”
If you have followed this far you must have some knowledge of the news reports about what from this point on is called “The Choicelinx Scandal” and how according to some press reports, Governor Benson’s evil former Cabletron Employees plotted to enrich themselves at the cost of the taxpayers. So I will not reprint the part about Outsider Linda Pepin getting $187,000.00 for brokerage fees for all the work she put into negotiations without a required license. She should have known better or gotten approval in writing.
What was in the report that needs to be investigated still is the part I read about Outsider Joe D’Allessandro confronting Insider Commissioner of Administrative Services Hill about the high cost of brokerage fees the state was paying at the time D’Allessandro was appointed. Apparently, the state has been using the same brokers for ten years, at least. And with Insider Hill’s propensity to not put friends contracts out to bid, it may be time to look at where all the other money trails lead. Outsider Pepin was a business person who walked right into a caldron of state politics and good old boy business deals ignored by the press until someone’s nose got out of joint.
Maybe it is time for Governor Benson to take another, closer, look at the Insurance Commission and the way Administrative Services Commissioner Don Hill conducts state business. Hey, he is in this deep, he might as well go all the way. I heard him say “The buck stops here.”