No way to treat a commissioner

John Ratoff, commissioner of the state Department of Employment Security for the last 20 years, deserved far better treatment than the unceremonious dismissal he received earlier this month at the hands of Gov. Craig Benson.

Benson decided in the waning days of his term to replace Ratoff with Richard Brothers, a nurse who worked as a health-care adviser to the governor and launched an unsuccessful and mean-spirited challenge to N.H. Sen. Carl Johnson in the September Republican primary.

Brothers’ appointment was made for reasons that remain unclear – even, apparently, to the three members of the Executive Council who voted for him and to the governor himself.

The governor’s reasoning in replacing a man who served as head of an agency of great importance not only to employees but employers across the state? “I think it was time to try somebody new,” Benson said.

To hear that kind of abstract, superficial explanation in filling such a key job should be extremely disappointing, not only to those who question Brothers’ appointment, but to his supporters as well.

That’s because there actually may be reasons to replace John Ratoff at Employment Security. His age, for one – although age certainly didn’t figure in Benson’s reappointment of Safety Commissioner Dick Flynn. The way he ran his department could be another, but judging by the governor’s response he didn’t seem dissatisfied with Ratoff’s performance. Another reasonable explanation to dump Ratoff would be if a potential nominee came along who had unparalleled qualifications to take over the agency. Richard Brothers is not that person.

The timing of the Brothers’ nomination and appointment also is highly suspect, considering that Ratoff has been waiting since April – when his term officially ended — to find out if the governor was going to renominate or replace him. Waiting until after losing an election to replace officials — as the governor has done with judgeships and another key job, education commissioner – is simply the kind of single-minded, backroom politics that New Hampshire was led to believe wouldn’t occur under Governor Benson. But, then again, there were a lot of things the state was led to believe that wouldn’t, and would, happen under Governor Benson.

To his credit, Commissioner Ratoff’s response to losing his job after 20 years was gracious.

“I thought I served the governor well,” he said. “I embraced a lot of his initiatives, but I’m a big boy so I understand.”

Well at least one person does.

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