By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Another former state lawmaker – a Republican this time – is furious at the lack of information being made public about who knew what and when they knew former Republican Rep. Troy Merner wasn’t living in Lancaster or anywhere in his district as required by the New Hampshire Constitution.
Former Republican state senator Mark Hounsell of Conway raised a question in an email to InDepthNH.org that hadn’t been answered since the scandal broke that led to Merner being asked to resign in September.
“My question on this is, Why the Speaker ‘urged (Merner) to resign’ from a position he had NO legitimate claims to?” Hounsell said.
Below is a copy of Merner’s resignation letter.
Hounsell quoted Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard’s public statement after the Attorney General’s Office released some details of the investigation showing Merner was living out of district during the last session when every vote counted because the number of Democrats and Republicans was almost evenly split.
Merner’s resignation letter doesn’t say why he resigned, but said it had been an honor to serve and gave no indication he was under criminal investigation.
“To my colleagues in the House, it has been an honor working with you to help make New Hampshire a better place,” Merner said in the letter dated Sept. 19.
It was the day after the attorney general notified Speaker Packard that Merner didn’t live in his district and was under criminal investigation for alleged wrongful voting and accepting legislative mileage reimbursements.
“When we learned that the Department of Justice had concluded Merner resided outside of his district, Merner was contacted and urged to resign immediately, which he did,” Packard said at the time.
Merner didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday and hasn’t responded since InDepthNH.org first contacted him after his resignation.
Hounsell, who was a state Senator from 1985 to 1988, has served as a Conway selectman, on the Conway School Board, Conway Library Board of Trustees and currently serves on the Conway Planning Board.
By seeking Merner’s resignation, Hounsell said it became evident that Packard was not sufficiently aware this was not simply a mistake by a legitimate member of the House.
“Rather, it was a criminal act that violated the NH Constitution by an individual who knew better and violated his oath to ‘bear faith and true allegiance to the United States of America and the State of New Hampshire and will support the Constitution thereof. So help me God.’ How does one resign from an office that they never legally held?” Hounsell asked.
He also said it appears that some GOP officials were aware and did nothing during the session to protect their small partisan majority. Although there have been rampant rumors that some officials knew, no one has come forward publicly to say they knew.
“I am fed up with the lack of honor and the growing lawlessness from our elected officials,” Hounsell said.
InDepthNH.org emailed Packard’s office Monday seeking comment. Packard has insisted he didn’t know until the Sept. 18 letter. His office sent the following response:
“Pursuant to Part II Article 22 of the State Constitution, the House would have been charged with determining Merner’s qualifications. Rather than be removed by a vote of the House, Merner chose to remove himself,” the statement said.
It included the portion of the constitution dealing with House members: State Constitution – House of Representatives | NH.gov
Hounsell joins former state senator Peter Hoe Burling in calling for details to be made public as to whether Packard or other Republicans or House members knew Merner was illegally sitting in the House, but told him not to worry because they needed his vote.
Burling, an attorney, was the Democratic Leader of the state House from 1996 through 2004, and then served in the state Senate. After that he was the Chair of the NH Rail Transit Authority.
“Since I believe that a law or laws were broken by Merner and maybe others, he should not have been allowed to resign,” Burling said Monday. You can’t resign from an office you never held under our Constitution. To allow or accept a ‘resignation’ makes it appear that it was simply a mistake, no harm done, rather than a crime that injured the rights of NH voters.”
Burling has filed two right-to know requests to Attorney General John Formella and House Speaker Packard trying to get to the bottom of who knew what and when they knew it. They were denied.
The Attorney General’s Office’s latest response Oct. 31 to Burling blames a continuing criminal investigation into Merner regarding alleged wrongful voting and legislative mileage reimbursements to deny the records Burling requested.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Conley’s letter to Burling indicates the full facts may not be made public even after the Merner criminal investigation is complete because they would constitute an invasion of privacy.
“If the public was more aware of how this is going, if the public knew what happened and what it meant in the long run to have someone who was utterly unqualified get sworn in and serve in the House for nine months they would be furious over this cover-up,” Burling said.
The current Democratic leader in the House has made it clear he believes Merner’s votes made a difference in the closely divided House.
House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm of Manchester told InDepthNH.org last month that, “Rep. Merner’s illegal vote likely affected the outcome of many motions that were decided by zero or one vote margins and on one bill, HB 626, his vote directly caused the bill to be killed.”
HB 626 would have moved the controversial school voucher program under the administration of the state Department of Education.
Burling and Hounsell both said they won’t let go until they get some answers. Burling plans to file a response to Formella’s denials of his right-to-know requests.
Hounsell said: “I have set my teeth in this and I won’t let go.”