CONCORD, NH – Former congressional candidate Eddie Edwards of Dover was unanimously confirmed as assistant commissioner of the Department of Safety and Gov. Chris Sununu formally nominated his chief legal counsel, John Formella of Portsmouth, to be the next attorney general at the Executive Council meeting Wednesday.
The Council also voted 4-1 to confirm McKenzie Snow of Washington, D.C., who formerly worked in the President Trump administration, as director of the Division of Learner Support in the New Hampshire Department of Education with District 2 Councilor Cinde Warmington – the only Democratic member of the five-member council – voting in opposition.
Formella has served the governor as his chief legal advisor for the past four years and has private environmental law experience. If confirmed he would replace Gordon MacDonald who has been confirmed as Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Edwards, a Black man, was previously nominated but withdrew his name from another state position after accusing some members of the then-Democratically controlled Council of racism. Edwards, who lost his bid in 2018 as a Republican congressional candidate for District 1, went on to serve on the governor’s Law Enforcement, Accountability, Community and Transparency commission. He has previous state experience in liquor enforcement and as a local police chief.
Warmington called the Snow nomination confirmation that Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut intends to dismantle the state’s public education system.
“McKenzie Snow wrote Betsy DeVos’ education policy as her Policy Director at the U.S. Department of Education,” Warmington said in a news release. “Snow has spent her career advocating for school voucher programs that divert public education funds to private and religious schools.”
Snow spent three years in the Trump administration in Washington until the end of his term and impeachment six weeks ago, Warmington said.
“She’s worked for the Charles Koch Institute and Charles Koch Foundation — the Koch brothers are some of the largest bankrollers in the country of school voucher and privatization programs,” Warmington said.
District 1 Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney, said this position has been vacant for 14 months and Snow is well-educated, a public speaker, and “the talent and energy” needed for the post.
“She is going to provide a lot of great energy, a lot of great insight,” Kenney said, noting she worked her way through college. He said he liked that on her resume she said she is comfortable questioning the status quo.
“She is going to be a mover and a shaker,” Kenney said.
Wheeler Accuses Mason
District 5 Councilor David Wheeler refused to lift from the table an item requested by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Director on a tree pruning project and accused the new director, Scott Mason, of a serious breach.
At the Jan. 22 meeting, Wheeler asked to table the request to enter into a contract with Precision Cut Pruning of Newmarket to provide pruning services at Henry Laramie Wildlife Management Area and Glenn’s Cove Wildlife Management Area for $15,000.
The contract was to be done upon approval through June 30, 2023, with 75 percent federal funding and 25 percent coming from the department’s Wildlife Habitat conservation funds. Wheeler asked if other councilors had received the email from the department that said the contract amount was reduced and spent anyway without approval.
Wheeler called it a “serious violation of the trust between the director and Executive Council to spend the money,” thus circumventing the Council.
Wheeler said if this was indeed a sole source contract with no other bidders “clearly something was wrong there.”
He said there were no qualifications in the contract about how many trees would get pruned.
“This money he spent anyway,” Wheeler said, vowing that he would be going to see how many trees were pruned for himself. “So, I guess we should have it to stay on the table and I will go out in the field,” Wheeler said and see the job.
“It is a serious violation of trust. I have only seen this once in 10 years and this has to stop,” he said.
Mason, a North Country farmer who is active in Republican politics, was nominated by Sununu and confirmed by the previous Council after a contentious public hearing where Mason’s qualifications were questioned.
InDepthNH.org’s attempts to get a comment from Mason were unsuccessful.
The Council, its new and returning members, got an overview of the state’s Medicaid Management Information System.
It has been the subject of previous questions and concerns, particularly by District 4 Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas of Manchester. A link providing an overview of the system is here https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/ocom/mmis.htm.
Henry Lipman heads up the system for the Department of Health and Human Services that serves 215,000 New Hampshire children and adults. They are individuals who need financial help for their care.
Almost $1 billion is spent annually through this system to pay over 10,000 providers across the state. Eligibility, enrollment, services used, and tracking what the state is paying on behalf of these individuals is part of this system.
Looking at being cost-effective is part of the current efforts and overseeing third-party contracts is another part of the work.
Gatsas asked a number of questions related to measures to reduce costs including whether the state could go another route by itself or regionally. A regional approach might require a change in legislation to work with other states, they were told, but it could be done although it might be slower.
“It’s big, it’s complex. This is just the first of many, many conversations we will have in the future,” Sununu said. He thanked the department for doing a great job.
“It’s just great knowing you guys are there,” Sununu said.
Motor Vehicle Records
The horrific crash in the North Country that killed seven motorcycle enthusiasts in June 2019 allegedly caused by a commercial driver from Massachusetts and how the state could get better information to avoid another tragedy was a subject that was also explored by the Council Wednesday.
Warmington asked Safety Commissioner Robert L. Quinn a number of questions related to improved intrastate communication on driver’s licenses.
Quinn said progress is being made since that accident and that he would have some questions answered for a future meeting.
What is the state paying for a unit of Naloxone, or Narcan, used to revive people who have overdosed on opioids, Gatsas asked.
Health and Human Services officials discussed the medication and its costs and the Council approved a retroactive memorandum of understanding with the state Department of Corrections for $1,060,366. It will provide services for opioid use disorder case management re-entry, to provide Naloxone kits to individuals re-entering the community from any correctional facility or state-run transitional housing and to provide medication-assisted treatment to individuals in correctional facilities with opioid use disorder.
The contract is effective Jan. 1 through Sept. 29 with the option to renew for up to two additional years and 100 percent of the money comes from federal funds.