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Part-time job, at $117K, too sweet

The state Department of Education proposed hiring a consultant for 30 hours per week at a cost of – gulp! – $117,000.

Nice work if you can get it, but it appears that only Karen Soule was ever really in that line.

Soule left her other part-time job at the Department of Education – the one that was paying $78,000 – on April 1. And, what a coincidence, another, higher-paying job opened up the same month.

And then, wouldn’t you know it, there was only one applicant for the new six-figure position and it happened to be Soule, who is retired as the former superintendent of the Somersworth School District and already drawing a state pension.

The double-dipping is all perfectly legal, but the smell was bad enough that Soule’s nomination was withdrawn earlier this week by the state’s education commissioner, after members of the New Hampshire Executive Council raised questions about the search process and the salary structure connected to the position.

“A job that pays $75 an hour, you’re going to get a lot of people applying for it. To say that only one applied, something’s wrong here,” said Executive Councilor Chris Sununu.

He’s right, and Sununu had his own theories: “Either they dropped the ball and did a bad job posting it, or the position was created and posted in such a way that only someone in their own department would get the job. Either way, it’s bad management.”

The problem is, because it has the appearance of a sweetheart deal, this is exactly the kind of thing that causes people to question the integrity of government.

The very fact that Soule’s name reached the Executive Council also raises the question: Where was Gov. Maggie Hassan in all of this and why didn’t somebody in her office pay attention to the red flags raised by Soule’s nomination before it ever reached the Executive Council?

It’s also worth asking just how common these one-
applicant hires are – not only at the Department of Education, but in all state agencies.

It may turn out that Soule is the best person for the job and turns in an outstanding performance, but it’s critical, above all else, that the process be perceived as a fair one.

So we were encouraged when Education Commissioner Virginia Barry told executive councilors this week that she was reopening the search. That would seem to validate the councilors who questioned the nomination.

Maybe Soule will be the nominee again, but it shouldn’t be that hard to find more candidates. Goodness knows the job pays well enough.