Executive Council

One of New Hampshire's most distinctive civic institutions is the Executive Council, an elected group of five people from across the state who vote to approve or veto many of the Governor's decisions. In this episode, Nick Capodice goes for a jaunt into the history and function of the Executive Council. 


NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.

Ben Henry [00:00:00] The name makes them sound extremely powerful doesn't it.

Nick Capodice [00:00:04] Executive Council.

 Ben Henry [00:00:05] Yeah like to me I feel like they belong in Game of Thrones.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:10] I would say that in addition to game of thrones it sounds like something you'd see in Star Wars. Yeah. Executive Council has a vote of no confidence.

 Ben Henry [00:00:16] Yeah well so we got a question from a listener named Kendall who wanted to know what New Hampshire is Executive Council actually does and why we have an executive council in the first place.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:27] This is an excellent question. The executive council is a unique facet of New Hampshire government.

 Ben Henry [00:00:33] And that is what we're all about here. This is civics 101: New Hampshire. It's a show about government and politics in our state. I'm Ben Henry.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:40] I'm Nick Capodice

 Ben Henry [00:00:41] And Nick I think this is the first time you've been on the podcast so welcome.

 Nick Capodice [00:00:45] Thank you. I'm the pleasure is more than half mine.

 Ben Henry [00:00:48] You are the co-host of our sister podcast civics one on one and you are a big fan of the Executive Council. So I was hoping you could help me answer Kendall's questions first of all can you just tell me what is the executive council.

 Nick Capodice [00:01:01] All right. New Hampshire is the only state in the union with an executive council that has any real powers and authorities. It's made up of five people and what they do is they share some of that power that would normally just belong to a governor.

 Ben Henry [00:01:15] And so they represent five districts throughout the state. I was looking at a map of them there's one for Southern New Hampshire northern New Hampshire the seacoast. There is one that people say is kind of gerrymandered district 2 curves across the state through Concord and this council what you're saying is an extra layer of the executive branch.

 Nick Capodice [00:01:34] Yes. And it goes back to checks and balances every part of our government is checked and balanced by some other part of it. And at a basic level the Executive Council is a check on the governor. So what do they actually do. The short answer is they vote to approve or veto a ton of the things that the governor does. So for example the governor appoints people to some of the more powerful unelected positions in government but the executive council has to sign off on all those appointments. This is like commissioners and people who run all the big state agencies.

 Ben Henry [00:02:07] So for anybody who's not really familiar with how the state government works state agencies have a lot of autonomy in some situations and the people who lead them are not elected they are appointed.

 Nick Capodice [00:02:19] And they make a lot of decisions they do but also contracts. So if a company wants to get a nice contract to do some work for the government the executive council has to approve it.

 Ben Henry [00:02:29] So they're in charge of a lot of money.

 Nick Capodice [00:02:31] Yes.

 Andru Volinsky [00:02:35] We're the only state in the nation that has a functioning Executive Council. Massachusetts has a ceremonial one but ours has real authority.

 Nick Capodice [00:02:46] This is Andru Volinsky. He is a member of the Executive Council and he once called it the most powerful body in New Hampshire that no one knows about. And if you listen to a cell phone greeting you'll get a little hint of that. Yeah.

 Archival [00:02:59] Hey this is Andy Volinsky. Thanks for calling. If you're calling because you have been nominated to a government position and you were trying to reach me as an executive councilor please understand that I must review 20 or 25 nominees each week. Please feel free to send me an email.

 Andru Volinsky [00:03:19] It's my cell phone. So I have one cell phone and the governor's office instructs everyone who's nominated to every position in state government to contact their councillors because they're always in their districts.

 Dana Saviano [00:03:33] There are available to all constituents to their towns to their cities either available to everybody by their cell phones. My name is Dana Saviano. I am the Executive Secretary to the Executive Council. I am the only full time employee for the Executive Council. I sort of run the office for all the councillors.

 Nick Capodice [00:03:50] And are they here now. Where is everyone.

 Dana Saviano [00:03:52] No most time the councillors are in their own districts. Most of them have full time professions and so that keeps them busy as well as them working as councillors within their districts.

 Ben Henry [00:04:03] So to be an executive councillor you must be 30 years of age a registered voter. You have to have lived in your district for at least seven years. But other than that it sounds like these are just regular people with day jobs.

 Nick Capodice [00:04:15] Yes. This goes back to the tried and true New Hampshire tradition of our legislators not being professional politicians. They usually have another job. They spend most of their time in their hometowns not in Concord.

 Dana Saviano [00:04:28] Executive councils are elected for two year terms same as the governor and their two year terms are run concurrent with the governor's term. They are just sort of another layer of citizen representation within the executive branch. We have had an executive council since New Hampshire became a state since it was a colony. Really.

 Ben Henry [00:04:48] Oh wow. OK. So this is not a modern invention.

 Nick Capodice [00:04:51] No not at all. The executive council goes back to the very beginning of New Hampshire's government how much do you know about New Hampshire's founding as a state.

 Ben Henry [00:05:00] The origin story as I understand it is that New Hampshire used to be just a big backyard to Massachusetts and then at some point we decided hey we want to be our own state.

 Nick Capodice [00:05:12] That's pretty much pretty much right. OK. The person who made that decision to separate New Hampshire from Massachusetts was King Charles the Second back in the sixteen hundreds.

 Ben Henry [00:05:22] You're going to have to walk me through this because I don't I don't know who that is.

 Nick Capodice [00:05:27] Well looks like it's time for a New Hampshire history minute. I just made that up that's not going to be a real thing. But here's how it all went down. The colony and eventual state of New Hampshire has a long and complicated history specifically when it comes to our relationship with our old friend Massachusetts. I know I know I know I know.

 [00:05:51] See in the 1600s we went from being separate from Massachusetts to being a part of Massachusetts and then in 1641 being governed by Massachusetts but all established towns were self ruled. And finally in sixteen seventy nine Charles the Second issued a charter that separated New Hampshire from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and there's a whole lot more there. But we're just focusing on the executive council here. When Charles split us in twain he elected a president of New Hampshire which is later called himself a governor named John Cutt and a nine man council. Now this might have been a mistake on Charlie two's part because while John Cutt usually agreed whatever the King said his nine man council did not as a matter of fact in their first assembly. The Council enacted laws that were directly opposite to the wishes of the British crown. So while today the Council serves as a check on the governor they used to check the king of England himself. Can you get more new Hampshire than that. Jeezum crow.

 Dana Saviano [00:06:58] And that has. It has been in place ever since.

 Nick Capodice [00:07:01] What is the role of the Executive Council.

 Andru Volinsky [00:07:04] The job of the Executive Council is to act as a board of directors to steward mostly the economy of New Hampshire. We do more on the business side of things than on the policy side and we're constitutionally designed to be a check on the power of the governor. So there are a lot of powers that the governor has where he can or she can initiate the action but then three out of the five counselors have to confirm the action for it to take place.

 Dana Saviano [00:07:38] The executive council has authority over all state contracts valued at twenty five thousand dollars or greater. Could you give me an example of a state contract. Sure. Like say the Department Transportation wants to hire a company to resurface some roads section of road frost heaves going crazy they want to fix the roads up actually and so they will want to enter into a contract with a company they have to put out a bid they have to you know get the different contracts they choose somebody then they put that to the council and asks for the council's OK and the council has to vote yes or no.

 Nick Capodice [00:08:10] Okay. And are the votes ever like just barely split down the middle of the usually go one way or the other.

 Dana Saviano [00:08:15] Well it's it's a three to two because there's five members. So so somebody is always the swing vote but most of the time most of the contracts go through fine but the councils have a lot of responsibility. They get all the contract paperwork for all the contracts on every agenda they get that the Friday before the Wednesday meeting and it's their responsibility to review all that paperwork and I and I'll tell you they review it all they will have gone through it they will have questions and all of that takes place during the governor and council meetings.

 Ben Henry [00:08:47] Nick if I may jump in to clarify the executive council meets every other Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Concord. Anybody can go.

 Andru Volinsky [00:08:54] So we have five days to read the materials. I read. All the materials I get two of us read them on our iPads and bring the little pads to the meetings with us. Three of the current councillors get printed copies of the materials delivered to them on Fridays by the state police. Why. Because there's sealed secret or they're not secret. They're not secret but you're not supposed to get them until that Friday. And they don't want to delay it in the mail because we have to vote on Wednesday.

 Nick Capodice [00:09:27] How much paper we talk and how much stuff do you have to review.

 Andru Volinsky [00:09:30] The agendas get longer as you get closer to the end of the fiscal year because everyone's trying to get in before the deadline. So we're in it right now. We're in that now. We could have 300 items on our agenda in June which is two or three feet worth of paper. So it's it's a long weekend. So we approve contracts. We confirm nominees. So the governor has the power to nominate judges department heads all of the volunteers who populate the many commissions and committees around the state. The governor brings forward their names. We get resume is we have phone conversations with the nominees and then we come in and vote again on the Wednesday morning meeting.

 Nick Capodice [00:10:15] Could you give me some hypotheticals of situations where somebody would want or should call you.

 Andru Volinsky [00:10:21] They don't have to be hypothetical. There's a dam being taken down by the Department of Transportation in the Durham area people are concerned about that there's a culvert in East Concord what's a culvert culvert along the side of the road where water flows off the road and it's caught and goes to a storm drainage seemed to be overflowing and affecting a farmer's field. I was called about that. People hear that a certain person is nominated to be a judge or a department head. They've had interactions good or bad right. I get called on that kind of thing. People should know what we're doing because of the 6 billion dollars state budget we approved the expenditure of about 2 billion. Wow. So people should pay attention right. Our agendas are online at the secretary of state. So if you hit New Hampshire executive council in your browser you'll come to our Web page. There's a bunch of information including the agenda's every Friday every other Friday. Since I helped confirm the heads of every state agency they tend to take my calls. And so if a citizen has a difficulty with the state agency doesn't understand what they're doing or why they're doing it. I can usually get that answered for them I may not be able to change the decision because there may be a good reason for it but I can usually intercede to get a question answered. I'm also the highest elected state office holder for the Democrats. The two Executive Councilors so we have some leadership roles in that area. I'm not very political so I don't go very far in that direction but I get some of those calls.

 Nick Capodice [00:12:21] So there it is the Executive Council. Yet another way that you as a New Hampshire citizen can get involved with your government. Go to their website at nh dot gov slash council to read their agenda see who your councillor is. See what they're voting on. They can read minutes of previous meetings going all the way back to 1989. And if you go to their meetings I just might see you there. I'm just going to see that giant stack of paper.


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