Op-Ed: The untapped power of the Executive Council

What is the Executive Council? It’s a question that every candidate for Executive Council will answer countless times over the course of the campaign.

The short answer is the Executive Council was formed by our founders to act as a check on the power of the governor. Its primary responsibilities include reviewing state contracts and approving gubernatorial nominations of judges and key appointments to agencies, boards and commissions. But the little known secret of the Executive Council is that it can yield enormous power to protect the interests of the people of New Hampshire.

The council is best-known for its role in approving or denying nominations. The council vets the governor’s nominations and decides whether their pick is the best person for the job. It cdetermines, for example, whether we have a Commissioner of education who is knowledgeable about and supportive of public education or one like Frank Edelblut, who seeks to undermine it at every opportunity. Last summer, the Executive Council protected the people of our state by rejecting a Supreme Court chief justice nominee who presented a direct threat to reproductive rights and voting rights.

While the nomination process is the most visible work of the council, its role in reviewing state contracts is equally important. There is untapped power that can be used to better serve the people of our state. The council must ensure our hard-earned dollars are spent in a fiscally responsible fashion, but also in a manner that promotes our values. That means protecting Planned Parenthood funding, rejecting the diversion of public education funds to private religious schools, and refusing to contract with organizations that engage in discrimination.

At each of its meetings, the council spends hours discussing contracts and calling upon agency heads to answer questions about them. The mountain of contracts, often more than 100 per meeting, are given to councilors on Friday night before coming up for a vote on Wednesday morning. Councilors can ask questions to better understand or critique these contracts. However, these questions often come too late in the process to make any meaningful change. The council has no power to renegotiate a contract: it is a simple up or down vote.

As a candidate for Executive Council, I questioned whether this process could be made to work better for the people of New Hampshire. I consulted with current and former executive councilors and state agency leaders about whether it would be possible to intervene earlier, asking important questions at a point in the process when it could actually impact the outcome. Questions like whether the contractor pays fair wages, provides health care coverage and paid time off to its employees, uses energy efficient technology, or actively promotes diversity in its workforce. As a health care attorney, I would inquire about specific things that could be done to increase access to affordable health care. I was told unequivocally that not only could this happen, but it should happen.

A healthy dialogue between our state agencies and the council earlier in the contracting process would allow for a more robust review. It would ensure our dollars are spent in a way that most benefits the people of our state, but would also create a smoother process for our agency employees. State agency employees currently operate in the dark, contracting for services with no advance communication with the Council which must ultimately give final approval. Imagine the frustration of having a boss who provides no input to guide your thinking, but then rejects your final work product leaving you to start over again. Early communication by the council would create a process that will not only lead to better outcomes, but is simply more respectful of the many outstanding, dedicated public servants working in our state agencies.

This is only one of the several ways we can unlock the untapped power of the Executive Council to better serve Granite Staters. Let’s put its power to work for the people.

Cinde Warmington is a health care attorney at Shaheen & Gordon, P.A. and candidate for Executive Council District 2. The views expressed are those of the writer.

Read Cinde Warmington’s op-ed in Seacoast Online here.