Banking chief renomination seen

Governor John Lynch is expected to renominate Peter Hildreth as state Banking Commissioner today, according to sources close to the Executive Council.

As of Tuesday, however, the governor’s office was officially not saying whether Hildreth would continue as commissioner. If Hildreth is nominated, the council wouldn’t be voting to approve his reappointment until its next meeting.

Hildreth, a former state Securities Bureau director, was first appointed to the Banking Department in 2001 by Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, also a Democrat.

Under Hildreth’s six-year tenure, the department has grown dramatically, as financing shifted from traditional bank loans to a variety of more risky alternatives, from interest-only mortgages to high-interest, short-term so-called “payday” loans. Hildreth’s jurisdiction also has grown as the state Consumer Protection Act has been limited in scope, thanks to increasingly broad exemptions of businesses related to financial services. His consumer lending staff alone has grown from 10 to 24 positions.

The state’s financial industry, on the whole, has been pleased with Hildreth.

“He is much more open,” said Meg Malette, executive director of the Mortgage Bankers and Brokers Association of New Hampshire. “There are no problems, no surprises. He is so easy to work with.”

“I hope he be reappointed. He has been a responsive commissioner and has done a very good job,” said Jim Demers, a lobbyist for the New England Financial Services Association.

Consumer advocates, however, say they have been frustrated that Hildreth has not done more to protect consumers, particularly in light of rising foreclosure rates and the growth of payday loans and other practices they term as predatory lending.

“I found his lack of support for consumers on financial issues, either on individual cases or in front of the Legislature, to be very disappointing,” said Peter Wright, who oversees the Consumer Protection Clinic at Franklin Pierce Law Center. “The last five or six years there has been a dramatic erosion of consumer protection laws in New Hampshire, and I see no evidence that the Banking Department did anything to stem that loss.” – BOB SANDERS

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