Open a window on the nomination process

The jury, of course, is still out on whether Democrats can do any better than Republicans at governing New Hampshire. But one way of measuring their success will be to see whether they choose to stay with the business-as-usual status quo or actually open up a window and let some fresh air and sunlight in.

No other body of state government is more mired in the status quo than the five-member Executive Council, which oversees the appropriation of tens of millions of dollars in state contracts. Over the years, New Hampshire Business Review and other media outlets have documented the council’s annual wrangling with so many thousands of contracts, many of which – unfortunately – aren’t even put out to bid.

The Executive Council also has the authority to determine the way state government runs, with its power to accept or reject the governor’s nominees for commissioner of all state agencies as well as to the other top posts in the state. But – again unfortunately – the council over the years has shown little inclination to thoroughly examine a nominee’s qualifications and abilities before voting on his or her appointment. Rarely has the council held a hearing to listen to the comments of stakeholders and other members of the public on the suitability of a nominee for commissioner or another top state post. Often, councilors brag that they may have made some phone calls to seek advice or comments from constituents, but exactly who those constituents are, what they’re saying and why they’re saying it remains unknown to the public, which essentially remains left in the dark during the entire process.

Of course, councilors do have a lot on their plate, often approving dozens if not hundreds of contracts and nominations at one meeting. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t begin to open up the process by at least holding public hearings on the governor’s choices to be the commissioner of a state department. These are people who wield tremendous authority, can oversee hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars and serve terms of up to six years – which means the nomination process can be the only time questions about a nominee can be asked and public comments can be taken. Thus simply rubber-stamping a governor’s nominee – or stonewalling one because he or she may be from the wrong area of the state – should no longer be acceptable procedure.

Why not start right away? The next nominee for commissioner is Peter Hildreth, who heads the Banking Department. His confirmation is expected on Wednesday, Jan. 24, but councilors can take the opportunity to begin a new era and actually take the time to seek comments from the public before voting.

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