Volinsky Questions State Employee Negotiations and Seeks Edelblut’s Ouster

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Paula Tracy photo

Crowded Executive Council meeting Wednesday at the State House in Concord.

– Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, formally asked Gov. Chris Sununu to seek the resignation of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut in a letter handed out before Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting at the State House.

During the Council meeting, Volinsky asked Sununu to keep the Council apprised of negotiations with state employees, which Sununu declined to do. In a busy agenda, Sununu also nominated Lori Shibinette as Health and Human Services Commissioner and Lori Harnois to head the Division of Travel and Tourism.

Volinsky, who is running against state Sen. Dan Feltes in the primary to take on Sununu for governor, wrote that New Hampshire needs “an education advocate, not an education detractor, as its Education Commissioner.”

Volinsky pointed to his most recent issue with Edelblut in obtaining the nation’s largest federal grant to expand charter schools in the state.

A $10 million first phase of the $46 million grant was denied by the state’s Joint Fiscal Committee last week despite Edelblut’s efforts.

“While I support choice in public education and the need to meet learners where they are, we can’t afford to do it at the expense of the roughly 165,000 children who attend public school in our state,” Volinsky wrote.
He added that there has also been a lot of Education Department turnover during Edelblut’s tenure.

State Employee Negotiations
The state does not yet have a master contract for its workers. An agreement between the governor and the SEA on a contract has dragged on with pay as the only issue yet to be resolved.

Volinsky told Sununu that he has a statutory option to keep the Executive Council in the loop.

“We do have a potential role if you allow it,” Volinsky said. “I want it to be transparent.”

The governor agreed, but noted that negotiations are underway with union leadership, and he wants to differentiate the state employees from its union leaders.
“It’s a very different situation,” Sununu said.

Union employees held signs asking Sununu to come up with a deal.

Executive Councilor Michael Cryans, D-Hanover, said: “It is important to treat our employees fairly in this state.”

Shibinette Nominated to lead DHHS

Sununu also nominated Lori Shibinette of Northfield to be the next commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services with a proposed annual salary of $143,704.

Shibinette is currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of New Hampshire Hospital. She previously served as a Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Lori Shibinette’s unmatched operational experience will allow her to hit the ground running,” Sununu said in a news release. “Our strong economy has provided New Hampshire with the opportunity to create robust programs that need Lori’s expertise to ensure better outcomes for individuals. Lori is a manager and has the ability to effectively oversee these programs to get the job done.”

A confirmation vote will likely take place at the Jan. 8, 2020, Executive Council meeting.

Harnois tapped

Lori Harnois of Epsom, currently executive director of Discover New England, has been tapped by Sununu to return to her previous post as director of the Division of Travel and Tourism Development that she held from 2010 to 2014.

Harnois has 20 years of tourism experience and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Tourism Planning and Development, with a minor in Sociology from the University of New Hampshire.

The position became available in April after Victoria Cimino left the post to take a position in Williamsburg, Va. Cimino held the post for four years.
If confirmed, Harnois will be paid $108,149 a year for the first of four years.

Renumbering Exits

Sununu has said he is opposed to a federal initiative to renumber interstate exits.

Victoria Sheehan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said it is a long process and suggested it be done as part of the next 10-year process.

The governor tweeted last month that people have pride in the current exit numbers in the state (he grew up off Exit 3 of I-93) and by changing them to the mile marker number would be the wrong direction for the state to go.

Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, suggested the Council make a non-binding statement on the matter, but Volinsky said there was no public notice and it would be better brought up at a later meeting if Sununu wants to put it on the agenda.

“I don’t support changing the numbers, ” said Gatsas.

Executive Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, said he did not have enough information to say yes or no. The deadline to report to the federal government is Jan. 15.

The governor suggested it be a part of the discussion at the next breakfast meeting in a few weeks and that would still give him enough time to send something to the legislature when they return Jan. 8, 2020.

The Council voted unanimously to expend $1.5 million in federal funds for an Immunization Program, including a registry that would include information on immunizations. Gatsas expressed concern that the state already spent $1.3 million on such a program but did not get what was expected.

Laura Condon of Bedford speaks about the immunization vote. Paula Tracy video

 Kerrin Rounds, interim DHHS Commissioner, and Lisa Morris of Health and Human Services, told the Council the state did get the software for registry information but there were problems, and now the state is going with a new contractor.

New Hampshire is the only state without such a registry. Opponents of the contract held signs urging the Council to not vote for it and to keep the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from working with the state on it. They were disappointed.

Laura Condon, a volunteer and New Hampshire Director of Advocacy for the National Vaccine Information Center, said this issue is not over.

Gatsas asked that the new contractor be held accountable by withholding some of the funds until the product is satisfactory to the state.
The matter had been tabled from the previous meeting to allow the Council to get more information.

Rocks Estate and Forest Society Honored

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests was honored for its work at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem to provide Christmas trees for free to troops across the country. The Rocks also provided the Christmas Tree in the State House and its many wreaths and decorations for the holidays.

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