The song has ended, but the melody lingers on

Continuing ramifications of actions taken or not taken by state government highlighted the coming of July.

On the school-funding front, actions taken by the Legislature in secretly negotiating and then passing a completely new school-funding plan resulted in a lawsuit filed by Rep. Representative Dan Hughes, R-New Castle.

Hughes alleges that the secret nature of the negotiations and process that led to the measure violated the state’s freedom of information and open meetings law. As of this writing, the court had taken no action on this suit.

Similarly, the city of Manchester was discussing filing suit over the bill, the city having lost millions of dollars in the process that it also deems illegal.

While that suit had not been filed, should it be successful, the Legislature would have to reconvene to take one of several possible steps. It could re-pass the legislation, unless the law is found wanting on a substantive basis. It could pass a different bill. It also could leave the system prior to changes in place.

Two columns ago, I commented on this process and the assumed reasons for then-Attorney General Peter Heed’s letter questioning the constitutionality of various proposals that had been developed by legislative committees. I reported speculation heard in Concord that a representative of the attorney general’s office had been present, and the letter was a result of the committee’s not listening to or consulting with counsel.

This comment elicited responses from at least two prominent legislators who participated in the process.

Rep. Fred King of Colebrook, a former state senator, wrote that my column “was an accurate presentation of the outcome of the process. It was one of the Legislature’s darkest days.”

But, he added:

“I was on the final conference committee and asked to be replaced when it became evident this was going to be a major revision to the bill passed in the House by a 255-69 vote. There was no opportunity for public involvement. The Senate never had an opportunity to vote on the bill sent over from the House. Instead, a move to the conference committee was made without Senate action. I voted against the revised bill.

“I am writing because of your comments relative to the Legislature ignoring the AG’s recommendations. I chaired the study committee that met from September to December of 2003 as well as the HB 608 study committee. We in fact solicited input from the AG’s office as well as DRA and the Department of Education. At none of those public meetings was the question of the constitutionality of this bill ever a topic of conversation. The first I knew as Chairman about this issue was when the AG’s letter appeared in the Nashua Telegraph eight days after we passed the bill with a cigarette tax as the funding source for the increase in community grants. I believe this was about a cigarette tax not the constitution. If the AG had a constitutional problem with this legislation during the fall hearings he should have brought it to the attention of the committee. We would have dealt with his concerns … In summary I think it is unfair to say we ignored input from any source including the AG’s office. In fact we asked for technical corrections several times.”

Similarly, Manchester Sen. Ted Gatsas contacted me to say that at no time did the attorney general’s office question the constitutionality.

The common understanding in Concord as to why the Heed letter was written apparently is incorrect, and Senator Gatsas and Representative King are right in pointing out what happened so that the speculation can be corrected.


The saga of Peter Heed’s resignation played itself out at the end of June when the Executive Council voted 3-2 to accept the resignation. This happened after he asked them to postpone action.

Heed should not have resigned as quickly as he did, the council should not have accepted it without seeing a final report, and the role of the governor in the whole matter is still unclear.

To make things even more curious, Governor Benson was quoted later as saying, to a group of law enforcement officials in Heed’s native Cheshire County, that he thought the accusations against the attorney general were aimed at him, the governor. If that were true, why would he have counseled and consented to resignation before the facts were known? The whole matter was strange and the only certainty is that Heed is now a former attorney general.


In a continuation of notable events, the Daniel Webster Council, Boy Scouts of America, held its annual Distinguished Citizen Dinner in Manchester on June 29.

Joseph McQuade, president and publisher of the Union Leader Corp., was honored, as were the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox were in New York losing to the Yankees that night, but they sent Beth Vaillancourt, their senior public relations person. What was interesting about her appearance not only was her poise and class, but the personal Manchester and New Hampshire touches she brought to her remarks, noting that she had been a resident of Webster House in Manchester, an institution she referred to as an “orphanage,” and also had been interviewed by Justice David Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court for her Rhodes Scholarship. There must be more to her story than was stated during the presentations.

McQuade, ever gracious, gave a fine presentation, and the event raised $130,000 for the Boy Scouts, one of the strongest and best of New Hampshire and American institutions.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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