NH Public Radio
Archive of article by Dan Gorenstein
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The organization that runs the state Municipal Association – the Local Government Center- hasn’t decided if it will appeal Monday’s Superior Court decision.

A judge has ruled the Government Center must open up its financial books.

The Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire are seeking meeting minutes and salary information.

The Government Center purchases insurance for many municipal employees using payments from cities and towns.

The Firefighters want to know if that money is being used exclusively on health insurance.

New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein reports.

To put matters simply, the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire doesn’t trust the Local Government Center.

Without looking at the books, Union President David Lang says he doesn’t know how the Government Center uses the health insurance contributions its gets from municipal workers.

TAPE: What we do know is that each and every day across this state, police, teachers, public workers are trying to negotiate contracts. And when they come up against health insurance costs that happen to fall under the umbrella of the Local Government Center, the costs are very exorbitant. And we would love to know where all that money is going.

When Lang says ‘all that money,’ he’s talking about an estimated $350-400 million dollars the Government Center collects, much of that from health insurance premiums paid by municipalities.

According to court documents, the Government Center paid some 112 full-time employees a little more than $6 million dollars in calendar year 2006.

Lang says he doesn’t understand how the Government Center can afford such a big staff.

The Firefighters’ position is- essentially- that healthcare money should go to purchasing healthcare insurance and paying minimal overhead costs.

The insinuation is that the Local Government Center is pocketing money for itself, rather than returning money to cities and towns.

The Government Center, or LGC, would not answer questions for this story.

But spokesperson Lynn Sperl read this statement from Government Center Executive Director John Andrews.

TAPE: the LGC is currently reviewing the decision with its attorneys and may appeal some or all of its findings.

While Government Center staff wouldn’t speak, its Board Chairman Dave Caron did.

He says, especially during tight financial times, cities and towns are doing everything they can to save money.

Given that, he thinks he would have heard some grumblings about the Government Center’s health insurance program by now.

TAPE: I have not received any concerns nor am I aware of any other board members receiving concerns about the services offered, or the prices offered by the Local Government Center.

Caron is also the Londonderry Town Manager.

He is one of 30 board members, all of whom are public officials.

There are teachers, selectmen, mayors, there’s even one heavy equipment operator.

Caron says the Local Government Center is not acting inappropriately.

TAPE: all of our business practices are commonly accepted practices. We retain a number of auditors, actuaries and legal counsel ot make sure we are maintaining our practices according to industry standards. And I believe all funds are expended appropriately and based on overall plan designs as reviewed and approved by the board of directors.

At this point in time, the Firefighter’s President David Lang says he can’t say if anything improper is happening.

TAPE: we don’t know. We would like them to open up the books, throw back the curtain, bring in transparency….let’s see what’s happening. And then…the public will decide.

For NHPR News, I’m DG.

Note: the LGC was formerly called the NH Municipal Association