Change in Leadership for NH

Gov. Sununu made national headlines recently when he announced he would not seek reelection for a fifth term as governor of New Hampshire. He noted, correctly in my opinion, that public service should never be a career.

This creates an opportunity for new leadership in our great state. It will be an interesting 18 months as the candidates line up to garner our votes. To date, former state Senate President Chuck Morse and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte have both formally announced their candidacies on the Republican side, with Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington running on the Democratic side.

There will be ongoing debate, as there has been for the last seven years, as to how effective Sununu has been as our governor. While he is a Republican, he is a moderate Republican. Fiscally conservative, he has supported lower tax rates for businesses, insisted on balanced budgets, and pushed for a first in the nation paid family leave program. He also supported looser gun laws and a voucher-based school choice program. However, he has demonstrated the ability to find the middle ground on issues such as abortion. While he describes himself as pro-choice, he supported a budget bill banning abortions after 24 weeks. Neither side was happy with the compromise. Sununu disagrees with Republican leaders on parental rights. In a decidedly purple state, this middle ground is the key to success.

Sununu has been vocal with his opinions on the upcoming 2024 presidential election and who he does not want to get the Republican nomination. He is doing everything in his power to make sure Trump is not the nominee. Extremism on either side won’t win. Running on a platform of retribution and old grudges is not a method of solving problems at a national level or a state level. Sununu has demonstrated a proven model of success in New Hampshire. Candidates running for governor would do well to study this model in our independent state.

Different priorities

The Union Leader recently reported that Manchester is spending $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act funds on a community-wide identity and branding initiative for the Queen City. It further noted the project was made a priority by Mayor Craig and the board of aldermen to address the negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While a property owner in Manchester, I do not reside in the city. Thus, even though we remit tax revenue to Manchester, we have no voting rights in the city. The property owned is near City Hall where, sadly, our maintenance team continues to deal with discarded needles and drug paraphernalia as well as human feces, discarded clothing, shopping carts, and other items strewn about the property. Like many property owners in downtown Manchester, despite repeated calls and requests to the mayor’s office, we have received no assistance or response to this issue that negatively impacts our property, our employees and our guests.

So it is disappointing to learn that a decision was made to spend $2 million on a branding campaign instead of the long-standing issue within Manchester that has not been properly addressed, homelessness. As noted in prior columns, homelessness is a complex issue with many facets. Manchester has failed in almost every area due to a lack of leadership and consistent finger-pointing. Residents of encampments have been evicted and shuffled from one location to another. Blame has been placed on the state for not addressing the problem, and on outlying areas for sending their residents to Manchester. This past winter, the city scrambled at the last minute to provide emergency housing (as though it were a surprise cold weather was coming). Property owners suffer the consequences.

Yet nobody in a leadership position in Manchester has taken the reins and said, “We’re going to address this, put a plan in place to assist this population, and solve this issue within the city.” In fairness, Manchester has hired a Director of Homeless Initiatives. Looking at the website, I see more excuses in the Q&A section as to why things can’t be done versus solutions as to what will be done. At present, it certainly seems as though the plan is to “brand” Manchester away from its problems.

Hospitals, beds & staff

Gov. Sununu has been fired up recently, and his target is the New Hampshire Hospital Association. The conflict was highlighted in a recent Union Leader article, with Sununu’s goal to require hospitals to accept more mental health patients from their emergency rooms. The NHHA has responded with a lawsuit against the state. The state has been court ordered to end the practice of boarding mental health patients in hospital emergency rooms.

Currently, available mental health beds statewide do not meet the level of need. As a result, when patients in crisis enter the emergency room, they are stabilized, but the hospitals have nowhere to send them as licensed treatment facilities have no capacity. Interestingly, the Union Leader article also cited that eight children and 30 adults were housed in hospital emergency rooms around the state at that time. It further noted that the state-run New Hampshire Hospital is unable to fill nearly 30 of its existing beds due to lack of staffing. Even if Sununu were successful in his argument with the hospitals, at a 2.7 percent statewide unemployment rate, the hospitals are facing the same staffing shortages as the state. In fact, WMUR recently reported that NH Hospital Association has an average workforce vacancy rate of 15 percent, but higher in key positions.

Despite these staffing challenges, the state acquired the Hampstead Hospital for juvenile psychiatric care, it is moving forward with its new 24-bed forensic hospital, and most recently it is in the approval stages of a new 125-bed mental health hospital in southern New Hampshire. While the increased capacity that these facilities offer is greatly needed in our state, one is left wondering where the staffing will come from.

While I am no expert on the matter, I do serve as President of the Board of Trustees for Fellowship Housing Opportunities, Inc. in Concord, a nonprofit that provides safe and affordable housing for people living with long-term mental health issues. Our organization has a vested interest in following current events in this arena. Just as Fellowship Housing is challenged to provide affordable housing for our residents, New Hampshire is also challenged to provide affordable housing for its workforce. This is having a tremendous impact on our ability to recruit and attract the talent needed for New Hampshire to not only prosper but properly care for our residents. As the governor and our legislature negotiate the upcoming biennial state budget, it is critical that the domino effect of this issue is understood and addressed.

As we progress

A few months ago my husband and I were in Illinois visiting my 82-year-old mother. We pulled into a burger joint for lunch and went inside to eat. This was a favorite spot of my mother’s, and we had always enjoyed it as well. Once inside, I noticed a panicked look on her face when she realized there were no longer any waitstaff, and we were required to use a kiosk to place our order and pay. I assured my mom this was not a problem, and we could do it, which we did. However, my mom noted she wouldn’t be able to come here any longer because she would never be able to order on her own. She seemed resigned to it even though I tried to encourage her to give it a try.

Fast-forward to a conversation I had recently with our 18-year-old son regarding ChatGPT (an AI-powered chatbot) and the utilization of that in various areas. We had a very spirited debate on how it should be used in education, research and communication. We marveled that ChatGPT was able to pass a law school exam, the medical licensing exam and the Wharton MBA exam. My son commented that at some point AI will replace humans in almost everything. I disagreed, but as many of you know, you never win an argument with an 18-year-old.

Ironically, during this debate, we happened to be dining at a restaurant using a tableside tablet to play trivia games and used that to pay. This prompted me to tell our son about the experience with his grandmother. I commented that there is a segment of the population that is getting left behind with the pace of technological advancement. For these folks, the things that we take for granted (ordering from Amazon with one click, online shopping, Apple Pay, online bill paying, etc.) are not only a struggle, but many times simply impossible.

Change is difficult, and we all have different capacities for it. It seems as though we should be addressing this skills/learning gap in our society to encourage engagement and participation versus isolation and withdrawal. In the meantime, be kind and be patient. Lend a helping hand when someone is struggling ahead of you in line. Help to restore faith in mankind.

Post-election thoughts

Like most Americans, I am ready to move beyond the 2022 midterm elections. Votes are still being counted, with the Democrats projected to have a slim majority in the Senate and Republicans projected to have a slim majority in the House. The forecasted red wave failed to materialize.

While I am ready to move on, I am intrigued by what happened across America on Nov. 8. Being a very moderate Republican (some would call me a RINO), I have struggled with the direction of the party. The extremism on both the left and right have prevented meaningful progress on major issues facing our country.

After poring through post-election news, I found something that resonated with me. Tim Alberta of The Atlanticsuggests that Trumpism is toxic to the middle of the electorate, and yes, I agree with that. Here’s an interesting quote from Alberta: “In each of the three states that saw major Democratic victories — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — 25 to 30 percent of voters said they had cast their vote in opposition to Trump.” This sentiment carried out across the country. In state after state, and county after county, voters rejected Trump-endorsed candidates.

We also learned that the quality of the candidate mattered. The party can’t put up candidates simply because Trump endorsed them. The voters expect some level of experience and a vision for the future of our country and for problem-solving the many issues we face. This drove so much of the split-ticket voting across the nation. We saw that right here in New Hampshire. Gov. Sununu, a moderate Republican, sailed to victory, a result of his leadership over his past three terms and ability to connect with the voters. Other key races in New Hampshire were won by the Democratic incumbents.

At the end of the day, New Hampshire is a purple state, and voters are not so aligned with one party versus another, but rather with the specific candidates who understand the issues facing our state. As I am known to say about many issues, in terms of voting, New Hampshire tends to get it right. Is it possible the rest of the country is following suit?

Child care struggles in NH

We were thrilled to learn last year that our daughter and her family living in Florida were relocating to New Hampshire. Our grandson would be nearby, and his parents too. Plans were made, houses were sold and bought, and the relocation process began. Imagine everyone’s shock when it was quickly discovered that there was no daycare available for our grandson in New Hampshire. No center within a reasonable geographical distance had availability, and in fact most had lengthy waitlists. The pause button was hit, and a Plan B evolved.

A recent article in NH Business Review, “In search of childcare solutions,” addresses the child care shortage. The article notes, “The reasons behind the waitlists are part of a vicious cycle. Workers are leaving childcare centers due to low pay. In turn, the centers are not able to take in as many children, because they lack staff and can’t meet the required teacher-child ratios. In an attempt to solve this, childcare centers raise their rates, so they can pay workers a higher wage and retain them. However, this results in some families having trouble affording childcare.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

In 2014, as part of my Leadership NH program, Steven Rowe, who at the time was President of Endowment for Health, gave a compelling presentation. He noted that the developing brain is like a sponge, and by age 3, 80 percent of the neural construction is complete. What happens in those first three years is critical in terms of early childhood development. He noted that investments in early childhood development yield, by far, the greatest returns. Yet as a society we invest the least at the time of greatest impact. NH Business Review confirms this in its recent article. It notes according to, the average annual pay of the state’s child care workers is $24,490 compared to the average annual income in New Hampshire of $59,270 (not even half).

This year the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services created the Child Care Strengthening Plan, funded through American Rescue Plan funds (see Its goals include building a better child care system, helping more families afford quality child care over the next three years, and ensuring equal access to child care programs, services and activities. It’s a start in addressing a glaring problem for New Hampshire families. In addition to delivering on the details of this plan, we should also be planning for what’s beyond it. As we prepare to vote in November, this is a great topic to discuss with the candidates when they ask for your vote.

A community garden

Having grown up in America’s heartland, one of my fondest childhood memories is of the garden that our family planted every spring. It was huge by New England standards, average by Midwest standards. So many hours of labor and love went into the garden, but the rewards were well worth the effort. Early morning harvests (before the heat got too bad) led to bushels (literally) of tomatoes, green beans, corn, peas, potatoes, onions, lettuce, cabbage and anything else my mom decided to grow that year. After a few hours spent in the morning hauling in the goods, the afternoon’s tasks required my siblings and me to clean and prepare the harvest for my mother to work her magic. She would spend the afternoon canning and freezing the produce to be served and enjoyed in the cold of winter when it tasted every bit as delicious as the day it was harvested.

Today I am a pretend gardener here in New Hampshire. I have a vertical tower that utilizes hydroponics for my summer vegetables. My family loves the tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, and lettuces that our tower produces, but I am just playing at it. There is no canning or mass production going on, no feeding of the masses.

One wonders what type of garden the City of Manchester and Families in Transition (FIT) envisioned when federal funds were spent to purchase property, demolish buildings and address environmental concerns to create the Hollows Community Garden and Learning Center in 2018. According to a recent Union Leader article, the plan was for the garden to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement meals served at Families in Transition Family Place Resource Center and Shelter. A grant funded a part-time garden manager until 2020, when funds were cut. Currently, the lot is vacant and overgrown. FIT is currently requesting permission from city aldermen to develop the land as affordable housing.

No doubt affordable housing will address a much greater need for Manchester than a community garden, and it falls into the wheelhouse of FIT. They have done it many times before and have done it well. Remembering from my Midwest roots what it takes to achieve a meaningful return from a garden, I think FIT is wise to pivot back to their core mission for this parcel of land. Unless there is funding, staff and volunteers, combined with experience and knowledge to drive the project forward, a community garden is doomed to end up exactly where it is today, a vacant and overgrown piece of land.

It’s the economy

Some of you will remember the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid,” that Clinton’s campaign used in 1992 against President George H.W. Bush. This phrase keeps coming to mind while perusing President Biden’s recent rosy assessment of the current economic climate in the United States. In a speech given by President Biden on June 3 in Delaware, he noted, “A recent survey from the Federal Reserve found that more Americans feel financially comfortable than at any time since the survey began in 2013.”

I am curious to see the details that drove those results, given that Americans are facing a myriad of economic issues. Annual inflation hit 8.6% percent in May versus the current 5 percent pace of wage increases. Gas prices have risen above $5 per gallon. The stock market continues to flirt with bear market territory. While low unemployment is good, too much of a good thing can work against the economy. When too low, it creates negative consequences for businesses in reduced productivity and triggers inflation. A tight labor force is exacerbating shortages in the supply chain and impacting the service industry. There is also the war in Ukraine. And, finally, a shortage of baby formula.

While the current administration tends to put the blame for most of these items on either the war, Covid or the prior administration, Politico reported that Treasury Secretary Yellen publicly admitted that the administration got it wrong on inflation. Trying to recover, the Fed announced the biggest rate hike in 28 years, 75 basis points, and indicated a similar increase could be coming in July.

New Hampshire is certainly not immune to what is happening nationally. According to the Union Leader, Liberty Utilities recently filed to double its price per kilowatt hour, and Eversource is expected to follow suit. It’s an election year, and while Gov. Sununu remains popular, five Republican candidates have filed to run against him in the primary. I happen to like Gov. Sununu and think he has done a fine job leading our state through a tumultuous time. However, voters quickly forget the past when it is time to go to the polls and focus on what their current point of pain is. Voters likely won’t accept finger-pointing at Washington for economic woes in New Hampshire. As a reminder, “It’s the economy….”

When nonprofits fail

Just like New England running on Dunkin’, New Hampshire runs on nonprofits. According to the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits, nonprofits generate $11 billion in revenue for New Hampshire and employ 15 percent of our workforce. In our “live free or die” state, nonprofits fill critical needs in lieu of the government and their sizes range from large and complex to quite small. When one of these nonprofits fails, it has a ripple effect throughout the community and state. Such was the case when Lakes Region General Hospital filed for bankruptcy in 2020.

The Attorney General and New Hampshire Charitable Trusts Unit recently released their report of their review to determine whether LRGH’s board had breached its fiduciary duties and whether any insights could be gained from the experience. As is the case with nonprofits in general, the LRGH board of trustees owed fiduciary duties to the hospital considering its purpose. This includes the duty of care, i.e. a duty to be adequately informed when making important decisions for the charity. Breaches of duty of care include lack of attention in overseeing the affairs of the organization, poor decision-making, and waste of assets. The report did not find fault with LRGH’s attention in oversight. However, it did find that in making major decisions the board deferred too much to the recommendations of long-term executives and failed to properly challenge the executives.

The report further notes that nonprofits, like for-profit businesses, sometimes fail. In this case, long-term executives pushed through a capital expansion plan with the board despite warning signs in the local market and national health care trends. While the board was composed of many business leaders and experts in various areas, they deferred to their trusted CEO and CFO. The report concludes with solid advice for trustees of all nonprofit boards including continual training and education, respectfully questioning the CEO and holding the CEO accountable, making sure decisions are consistent with the mission, and consulting with outside experts before making major decisions.

Serving on a nonprofit board can be a rewarding experience, particularly when it fulfills a mission one is passionate about. However, with that service comes responsibility to the nonprofit and the community it serves. Nonprofits are, in fact, businesses in that they must be able to meet their financial obligations. The best decisions are made when input is received from many different perspectives, and this is a hallmark of effective boards. When trustees are not prepared or engaged, and defer to senior management, they fail in their service to that nonprofit.

Saying goodbye

Fifteen years ago, as a new board member of the Animal Rescue League of NH, I pulled into the parking lot one day and met the sweetest beagle out for a walk. I went home and began negotiating with my husband, anxious for our 2-year-old son to have a canine companion to grow up with. He reminded me we were leaving on vacation. We agreed if the dog was still there when we got back, we could bring it home. The dog was adopted in the interim, but a few weeks later I received a call that he had been returned.

Potter and his sibling had both arrived at the shelter as strays. Their owner had been called but declined to pick them up. The shelter staff estimated Potter’s age as 1 at the time. When I saw Potter’s patience with our curious toddler, I knew he was meant for us. That patience never wavered with our son, nor with the next beagle I brought home, nor with the addition of a Brittany spaniel, and certainly never with our grandchildren.

This is not to say Potter didn’t have his quirks. UPS deliveries were a challenge as he assumed responsibility for judiciously guarding the front door from any drivers of brown trucks. A few years ago I noticed Potter no longer reacted to the sound of the UPS truck, and we soon realized he had gone completely deaf.

As he entered his senior years he slowed down remarkably, spending his days sleeping in his favorite chair, only rising (punctually) for his four meals a day. As one aging issue developed into another, Potter received his very own pill box so we could better manage his medications. We arranged our schedules to accommodate mealtimes and meds. He became increasingly anxious and restless, frequently pacing throughout the night, symptoms of doggie Alzheimer’s.

The past several months, we have struggled with when to let him go. At a recent vet visit, Potter became aggressive with the vet staff. I knew then that it was time, his pain and confusion causing atypical behavior for him. Potter did his job well, and the little boy who grew up with him is now a 17-year-old teenager. I will be forever grateful that he chose us all those years ago to be his forever home. His steadfast love and companionship made our family whole. He has more than held up his end of the deal and it is time to bid him farewell. May you rest in peace, our sweet boy.

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