Commissioner race focuses on transparency

The state primary election is Tuesday, Sept. 13, and the most interesting local race could be the one for the Republican nomination for county commissioner in District 3.

Len Mannino, of Milford, is challenging Robert Rowe, of Amherst, who is finishing the term of the late Carol Holden. Mannino, a longtime Milford School Board member, says the commissioners’ work lacks transparency, and that they are not doing a good job of protecting the county’s cash reserves.

Both men have long records of public service.

Mannino, 47, has been a Milford School Board member for 10 years and has served as a Milford selectman. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress.

Mannino has an associate’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement, and has been a police officer and call firefighter. He is security director with the New Hampshire Lottery Commission.

Rowe, 84, stepped down as state representative last spring to finish Holden’s term after he was elected by the Hillsborough County delegation. He served in the House for 20 years and had been chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Rowe, a retired attorney, Rowe has been on the Amherst Zoning Board of Adjustment for more than two decades.

The winner of the primary race will go up against Democrat Susan Ladmer, and the winner of the November election will join Toni Pappas and Sandra Ziehm on the board.

Commissioners’ duties are mandated by state law. They include the care of all property and real estate belonging to the county. They are in charge of the Department of Corrections, the county nursing home, public assistance, human resources and departments not under the statutory control of other elected officials. The commissioners also have budget review over all county departments.

District 3 includes Amherst, Brookline, Hollis, Lyndeborough, Merrimack, Milford, Mont Vernon, Wilton and a number of other towns.

Len Mannino

Q. Why do you want to be a county commissioner?

A. I am running for three core reasons:

1. The first is to improve transparency of operations. The county has to do a much better job of making information readily available to the public. In order to be transparent on the major items that come before the commission, there needs to be transparency on the routine items, such as the timely posting of minutes and department contact information. When I announced my campaign, I noticed that there were literally months and years of meeting minutes that had not been posted on the website for public inspection. I contacted the county and simply asked the question, "Where are the minutes?" Since then, there has been some decent progress with posting the minutes. It’s not a reflection of the employees; I understand that there is limited staff and limited resources, but the fact remains that government works best when it is open to public questioning and inspection.

2. Protect citizens’ cash reserves from depletion.

The county has a cash reserve fund, which is for undesignated use, but for more than a decade, funds from our cash reserves have been applied to the budget to help stabilize the tax rate. Not long ago, the reserves were more than $21 million. In just a few short years, the amount has shrunk to approximately $3 million.

I think an alternative approach would have been to apply reserves during only the most difficult of economic periods. Consider that on average, the county budget increases approximately $2 million per fiscal year. This year, the county budget exceeds $93 million, of which $53 million will be raised by taxes. In 2015, Milford citizens paid $1.6 million to the county.

In Bob’s (Robert Rowe’s) town, Amherst citizens paid more than $2 million. My position is that the cash reserves should not be applied to budgeting solely because it’s available. Even the independent auditor’s report on the financials has declared that the cash reserves are a measure of the county’s available resources. Reserves are meant to be a resource. I share the concern of many that if the county continues on the path of depleting our cash reserves, not only will our position be weakened and force cuts, such as with the SATCO (Substance Abuse Treatment Community for Offenders) initiative, but our citizens and businesses are going to find themselves subject to a massive tax hike. We will see the ripple effect negatively impact every town and city budget, especially in communities where there is an established history of default budgets. This approach is simply not sustainable. I think that there is a case made for a more strategic approach to budgeting and a fresh perspective.

Q. What do commissioners plan to do about the medical problems among inmates of the county jail? New Hampshire news outlets have reported on lack of oversight resulting in many lawsuits over the years.

A. The third reason I am running is to improve accountability across operations. Let’s start with the corrections, where lawsuits have become so prevalent that it has seemingly fostered a "business as usual" environment. That must change, which is why I support accreditation of the correctional system. Adopting nationally approved standards improves accountability, protects rights of residents, diminishes exposure to the risk of recurring litigation, and helps to attract and retain qualified staff. We can’t treat the symptoms. Maintaining the status quo is not a solution. The commission has to take a stand and go after and effectively resolve the underlying causes – and it has to do it in a transparent manner. In fairness to the county, not every lawsuit will have merit; however, that’s not a reason to not have accountability and transparency.

Robert Rowe

Q. Why do you want to continue as a commissioner?

A. I am currently one of the county commissioners. Prior to that, I served as a member of the county Executive Committee for 15 years. As such, as an executive committee member, I have reviewed each budget in depth and recommended the budget to the county delegation. Based on my experience, I know county government, and know the county has offered cost-effective services to the citizens of Hillsborough County. We have kept the county taxes low and at the same time provided quality services. I enjoy donating my retirement time to public service and would appreciate the opportunity to continue.

Q. What do the commissioners plan to do about the medical problems at the county jail? New Hampshire news outlets have reported on lack of oversight resulting in many lawsuits over the years.

A. The Valley Street Jail houses both pretrial and post-trial convicted individuals. Treating health issues for these inmates can be most trying as to their real and imagined illnesses. Medical providers are often frustrated in that inmates often refuse to authorize the release of their medical records. The main issues among the inmates is that they are claiming they are not getting their preferred medication (current prescription), continuity of care and able to choose their personal medical care provider. There have been a number of health issues this year. The county commissioners addressed the medical care matter and have contracted with a new medical team that currently practice in three other county jails. As a county commissioner, I have reviewed the facts in this matter and can assure county residents that all incapacitated inmates will receive medically acceptable care.