Candidates for 3 county offices on Nov. 4 ballot, too

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories appearing before the Nov. 4 election that will examine state and county races.Like any serious candidate, Bob Rivard understands the importance of working a crowd.

Rivard pressed palms Saturday with as many potential voters as he could during the Milford Pumpkin Festival.

Unlike candidates for federal, state or even local office, Rivard spent more time explaining his job than touting his qualifications.

“Not one person knew what I do,” said Rivard, 68, who is seeking his 13th term as register of probate for Hillsborough County.

In the family tree of elected office in New Hampshire, county positions are the proverbial redheaded stepchild. Voters know a small portion of their property taxes go to county government. Beyond that, most don’t really understand what that government actually does.

>>>N.H. Campaigns 2008<<< "It's just different because it's a little more low-key," said Pam Coughlin, who has held state and local offices and is now seeking a first term as Hillsborough County register of deeds. "The county is just kind of there," she said. On the Nov. 4 ballot, voters will elect a president, senators and congressmen. They'll fill seats in the state Legislature, and as almost an afterthought, they will elect their county commissioners. At the bottom of the pecking order are three other county jobs: treasurer, register of deeds and register of probate. Register of deeds: The office is at 19 Temple St. in Nashua. Duties include recording, reproducing and indexing legal documents pertaining to real estate, and reporting to the cities and towns for tax purposes all transfers of property. The register also is charged with maintaining records that date back to 1771. The registry records an average of 300 to 400 documents a day, with 50-75 people using the facility. The current staff consists of the registrar, deputy registrar, one part-time and 19 full-time employees. On this year's ballot, two candidates are vying to replace Judith MacDonald, who is retiring after 28 years in office. Republican Pam Coughlin of Mont Vernon will face Democrat Louise Wright of Nashua. Wright didn't return a reporter's phone calls for this story. Coughlin, 55, was elected in March to the Souhegan School Board. She also had served on the Mont Vernon Elementary School Board and for 10 years as a state representative; she is a former chairwoman of the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee. Coughlin decided to run because the seat is opening up. She feels her 20 years working as a legal secretary and background working in real estate law has made her a "good fit" for the position. "You need a lot of managerial and organizational skills," she said. Register of probate: The office is at 30 Spring St. in Nashua, with a satellite office in Manchester. The position is an administrative job with probate court, which has jurisdiction over a variety of cases including trusts, wills and estates, adoptions, name changes, guardianship of incapacitated persons, guardianship of minors, termination of parental rights, partition of property and involuntary admissions. Rivard, a Republican from Manchester, will be challenged by Graham Smith, a Democrat from Amherst. Smith didn't return a reporter's phone calls for this story. Rivard says he enjoys his job so much that he has no plans to retire soon despite serving for a dozen years. "We do a lot of good things for people in very sensitive situations in their lifetimes," he said. Winning re-election, Rivard said, may prove a challenge "because Republicans are getting blamed for everything." However, Rivard said he has been able to work with people from either party. "This is all for the people," he said. County treasurer: Duties include collecting the county property tax from municipalities, overseeing financial accounts and investing county funds. One-term incumbent Christopher Pappas, a Democrat from Manchester, will face Bob Burns, a Manchester Republican. Burns has an unlisted phone number and couldn't be reached for this story. Pappas sought the part-time position after serving two terms as a state representative. He owns The Backroom restaurant. "I had a great time being in the Legislature, but it sort of ran its course," Pappas said. While serving in the state legislature, Pappas developed an interest in budgetary matters and county government and saw serving as county treasurer as a way to give back. "It's one of those positions that isn't high profile, but it really makes a big difference in the bottom line of the county budget," Pappas said. The treasurer decides where to invest money from tax revenues. Over the past two years the county earned $3.8 million from money Pappas invested, he said. Last year, the Hillsborough County budget was $72 million. While the county money is protected, the national financial crisis has meant dropping interest rates, making it imperative the treasurer makes the right investment choices. "You need to have extra scrutiny about what you're doing," Pappas said. Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or