Wednesday, April 10, 2024

"Show me the Money!" From Fiscal Responsibility to Financial Uncertainty, Haverhill Changes Form of Government in Town Ballot Vote


     Rather than the written works of Lewis Carroll, we look to much more modern theater at the movie Jerry Maguire for our next reference to the fine arts. 

     Fictional football Star "Rod Tidwell," through real-life actor Cuba Gooding Jr., made the phrase "Show me the Money" famous. The Tidwell character in the movie made Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire character repeatedly shout it back to him in a very iconic scene: 

(480) "Show Me The Money" | Jerry Maguire - YouTube   

      Jerry Maguire was a sports agent dealing with athletes who could often be demanding, egotistical and in some cases disconnected from reality. It is not unlike the position the town of Haverhill and the NH Department of Revenue Administration ended up in while fielding Woodsville's incessant attempts to keep Haverhill funds flowing to the district for their fire and highway departments. There are tons of parallel entitlement issues in both circumstances. Like many pro sports athletes, those in charge of the funds under Woodsville's direction did not keep good tabs on where all of that money was going. That leaves Haverhill taxpayers yelling "Show me the money!" 

      A common refrain from the Woodsville side is the old standard: "It's our money, what do you care how we spend it?"

      The Haverhill, NH saga we've been reporting on here took a new turn recently in the wake of a vote by the town to change from a Town Manager to a Town Administrator form of government. Changes will be implemented by the time this article goes live. They could be costly, as the Woodsville vs. Haverhill funding feud continues to escalate. 

      Brigitte Codling took a risky position in standing up for fiscal responsibility across the entire town. Her reform efforts shook up a well-entrenched "good old boy" network and led to essential legislation efforts to hash out the Woodsville funding issue once and for all. She also faced a backlash of hatred and vitriol for pinching too many pennies in places where they'd never been pinched before. That put a huge target on Codling's back for interfering with "the way it always was" in Woodsville. 

     This year's town election featured a vote to change Haverhill to a Town Administrator form of government. The vote passed, which means Codling's existing contract had to be bought out. The administrator position is appointed by the Select Board in this new form of government. So, if the board recognizes Codling's efforts and considers her a good fit for the role, they can easily name her Town Administrator, at least temporarily. That's exactly what they've done, in fact. She's now under contract for one more year with the town as the incoming Town Administrator. 

A similar changeover happened in Bristol once, where the town manager's stay was a bit more short lived:

Manager in Bristol resigns as town moves prepares to move away from town manager system | Local News | 

     An effort to oust Codling that named her outright in the warrant article failed to pass in last year's town vote. The decision by voters to indirectly attempt to depose her in this backhanded manner seems misguided, but it's also typical of the pied piper nature of politics. The margin of victory was a few dozen votes.  

     Some towns modify the administrator role to keep the board members from being overworked and underqualified to handle vital town issues normally left to a Town Manager. This article about a Vermont town dealing with the same kind of issue focused on potential liability associated with a Town Administrator form of government as opposed to the Town Manager setup:

Town Administrator or Town Manager: A Question Not So Black and White – The Hinesburg Record

      The change will usher in an all-powerful select board in Haverhill. The role and authority of each board member will greatly expand and adapt due to the change. The Town Administrator will be their appointee. So many more differences in these two town leadership schemes are outlined in this important Q and A report: 

KM_C454e-20170203113937 (  

       It seems that the legal conundrum created by the recent controversy with the prior board didn't concern enough voters for them to stick by the Town Manager form of government. Animosity appears to be boiling under every potentially final negotiation of the Woodsville funding debacle, and it's easier to blame one person than it is to indict an undercurrent of corruption. Codling essentially became what they refer to in politics as "too polarizing." 

      Yet, without accurate post-vote polling or knowing the thoughts in the heads of voters deciding on the issue, we really can't know if this was truly an effort targeting Codling herself. Perhaps it was just a matter of enough people just thinking that type of government would make much more sense. The reality is, the new norm depends more than ever on who makes up the board of selectmen and why they are all truly there. The latest Woodsville controversy over the last few years, especially the backroom legal wrangling we've reported on here, all occurred because the town's board felt it was finally stacked enough to make a power move. 

      Is this Town Administrator change creating the kind of scenario and environment that makes the most sense for Haverhill? Time will tell, but the taxpayers of Haverhill will soon be hearing the town tell them all "Show me the money!"

      It will likely be a six-figure buyout of the town manager position. The Town Administrator position carries approximately the same wage as Codling's former position offered. In another "be careful what you wish for" scenario, if the voters intended the change of government to get Codling out, the problem with that logic is the board is no longer stacked in favor of Woodsville's interests first. It's hard not to notice how much the board relies on her guidance and advice at public meetings. It's simply the smartest move to make under the circumstances to keep her at the helm. 

       Unfortunately, Woodsville may ultimately get another chance to "stack" the political deck in town. Board Chairman Phil Blanchard recently resigned from his position. He did so primarily due to the extended requirements of the board member role under the new form of government. His replacement will be appointed by the rest of the current board. Then, it's all up to the voters down the line. It's a lot of power for a selectman to have and even more power for town voters to have in the way of being able to shape the future of their town leadership.  

      There's no clear evidence that the vote to change the system of government in town was a referendum against Codling in particular or a preference of the type of government in question. However, it makes sense after trying so many other ways to get it done, that this was the last-ditch attempt of Codling's detractors to convince voters to remove her from her role one way or another. So, if it was indeed an anti-Codling agenda that carried the vote, it might turn out to be a rocket-propelled grenade fired at the target that instead landed at the feet of the voters and town taxpayers who ultimately approved the costly and potentially disastrous change. 


     Slick, underhanded moves like this change of government vote might seem like a victory in the short term to Codling's detractors who appear connected to the effort, but changing to a Town Administrator just may be the most fiscally irresponsible move the town could make in the long run. 

     It seems Woodsville and Haverhill are still very much at odds over the negotiation involved within NH Senate Bill 448. A recent work session didn't seem to clear matters up at all. Woodsville's district administrator Kevin Shelton admitted at the hearing that he never saw some of the provisions offered in a proposed deal to merge the Haverhill and Woodsville Fire Departments to create a unified town department in Haverhill. The real stalling point continued to be the highway department funding. There is apparently not much of a possibility that Woodsville could simply have their Haverhill highway department taxes waived or refunded through legislation. Such a pact would leave Woodsville to use the savings toward keeping their own highway department. The committee chair continuously rejected such an option. 

     Merging both Woodsville's Fire and Highway departments with Haverhill's would seem like the best way to solve the problem. Rivalry, pride and in some cases ignorance seems to be preventing much progress on this front so far. 

       It makes the most sense with the fire departments, who already work together on large fires and emergencies. Yes, it's technically the "Woodsville Fire District" and having a fire department there is historically significant, but the merge doesn't mean they lose their station or even their staff. 

      Folding in the highway department could also work under the right circumstances. If Woodsville wanted to keep their highway department and manage it all themselves, the best their taxpayers should get in return for that is a tax break from Haverhill for maintaining the roads in the commercial center of the community so Haverhill doesn't have to. It may actually be worth a 50 percent reduction in the taxes Woodsville residents pay for Haverhill's highway department. If a tax forgiveness plan is an option, it would be the board and Woodsville's leadership working it out now under a Town Administrator government. 

      It is clear from an outsider's perspective that Woodsville's ultimate goal (if they could afford to do it) would be to become their own town. They want their own departments, and they want the old funding formula to be the new norm again. At this point, this single issue has created more rivalry than progress for both municipalities engaged in the struggle. The reality is Woodsville is a district of Haverhill. I'm sure the residents of Haverhill use Woodsville's roads and the residents of Woodsville use greater Haverhill's roads. The fire departments obviously work together regularly already. I'm sure there is a certain pride in a longstanding tradition of the district retaining their own exclusive departments. However, there is also a longstanding tradition of poor performance on audits across the district. 

       Woodsville is already under an intense audit-driven spotlight with the Department of Revenue and Administration in NH. The fire and highway departments would be two less entities they would have to keep and show accurate books for. 

      A certain "that's the way it's always been" crowd in town on both sides of the Woodsville/Haverhill border seems to be constantly squirming for a stronger foothold in the political landscape. They keep coming up empty recently, only fueling their fire to achieve some final revenge and redemption. They keep forgetting that the world around them has to adapt to the changing times. Time moves on, and antiquated practices have to be eliminated or edited to reflect the present-day reality. 

     Meanwhile, the town is still pursuing a declaratory action against the attorneys involved in an attempted small-town coup in Haverhill.  A summary judgement package recently hit the docket with Haverhill insisting this is an open and shut case of political corruption and unethical legal maneuvering. The bulk of the evidence on twin motions for summary judgment (one for Haverhill's case and the other for DTC's counterclaims) shows that the DTC attorneys' claims involving their alleged ratified retention by the town are completely bogus. These documents display a number of circumstances and events stacked together that prove beyond any shadow of an unbiased doubt that DTC attorneys hijacked an emergency situation to weasel their way into supposed employ of the town. Once implanted, they accomplished absolutely nothing in the town's best interests. Instead, they claimed the work of another firm and a local politician as their own. 

       The kicker is, these weasel attorneys were never legitimately employed by anyone in this scenario due to serious conflict of interest concerns over-riding the entire period of their alleged legitimate retention. Each point of fact and stage of the process DTC failed to follow is outlined in pristine detail through these motions and their supporting documentation. Each crucial point of fact and law in favor of the town taken on its own would completely destroy DTC's arguments and potential defenses. Together, this evidence and background will immediately sink DTC's battleship with any sane judge who reviews it all properly. 

     To add insult to injury, DTC isn't even paying the ridiculous costs of defending this case, all thanks to the firm's big insurance policy. In my trickle-down wreckonomics analysis in an earlier post on this site, I outlined how this kind of situation shows how everybody ends up footing the bill for one group's complete incompetence. Who do you think really ends up paying the costs that big insurance company absorbs for DTC's complete lack of due diligence, absence of candor, and outright malpractice? The other smaller consumers who use the same insurance provider all likely take on a piece of that debt when the firm's own yearly premium costs are drowned out by the drastic litigation expenses here. DTC's own premiums might "trickle" up next year, but not nearly enough to pay for the complete waste of time involved in defending this case that these documents prove is a slam dunk for the Town of Haverhill.

Read the crucial filings for yourself:     

Summary Judgment Motion for DTC's Counterclaims Against Haverhill

Statement of Facts for Summary Judgment Motion (Counterclaims of DTC)

Summary Judgment Motion For Haverhill's Declaratory Judgment Case

Statement of Facts for Declaratory Judgment Summary Judgment Motion

     This case certainly screams "show me the money." And it also illustrates that you don't have to represent yourself to have "a fool for a client." 

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