The Early Years of the New Hampshire Municipal Association (1962-1974)
Speaking with a Common Voice
Reflections from NHMA’S First Official Executive Director – Richard Marden
It was not until 1957 that the Association had became a full-time operation. When the NHMA went full time in 1957, “it was an idea whose time had not come,” said the first Executive Director, Richard Marden, of Wolfeboro. At that time, he says, New Hampshire was very rural and the towns were not equipped to deal with or recognize the problems they had.
When Marden began, his “office” was the anteroom outside the office of then Concord City Manager Woody Brackett. A grant from the Spaulding Foundation Charitable Trust allowed Marden to rent a room in the Concord Monitor Building and to hire a secretary. In trying to establish the goals and priorities of the Association, Marden pulled together a group of local officials and said “What is it you want to accomplish by the end of the year?” The group’s collective goal was to create an organization where towns and cities could speak with a common voice as well as share information. As a result, Marden created several new publications, including some that remain with us today: a newsletter, the Legislative Bulletin, and the New Hampshire Town and City Magazine.
Collecting those municipal voices proved difficult. “I could spend half a day trying to find a selectman,” said Marden. In fact, town halls would be closed except for one night a week” when selectmen met to sign checks.” Coupled with the difficulty of tracking down local officials, getting these officials to think on a statewide basis was a challenge. “It was difficult to get a selectman in small towns. They were not ready to accept that the towns had any problems they needed help with,” said Marden. And, if you thought your town meeting attendance was deplorable, Marden says that only 22 people attended NHMA’s annual meeting in New Castle!
Marden found that towns were only then developing the problems that they are still struggling with today. “No one talked about acid rain, pollution, solid waste or planning.” Marden did discover, however, that every town had pretty much the same problems, “the root of which was a very bad relationship with the State.” Towns were creatures of the State, he says, “but the state was an inadequate parent, mandating what they wanted done but not giving towns the where-withal to raise the money.” Marden worked to raise the awareness among state officials that problems did exist on the local level, and it was this work that Marden says led the Association into a decline in the late fifties. At the time, legislation existed which allowed cities to spend money on dues for membership in the NHMA, but there was no legislation allowing towns to belong. A bill was introduced in 1959 to rectify the situation, but Governor Wesley Powell vetoed it, meaning no town could legally pay dues. The reason for the veto? During the election for governor, Marden developed a questionnaire asking the candidates to present their stance on municipal issues. “Powell never responded,” said Marden, who printed that the Association could only assume Powell had no policy for cities and towns or did not consider New Hampshire’s local officials worthy of his attention. The incident put Powell and the Association on opposite sides, which lead to the veto. “That veto would force the Association out of business, which is what Powell wanted,” says Marden. “Some say I made a mistake,” he says. “If I had my life to do over again I would do the same thing. I felt the members had a right to know what every candidate felt about local government.” Marden says he could see the end of the Association coming, so he took the position of Executive Director for the Pennsylvania League of Cities, a post he held for over twenty years.
And although Marden says there were “no dramatic successes” during his tenure, he did lay the groundwork for the future – today’s NHMA – an organization that Marden felt had become an integral part of the New Hampshire local government structure. “It was now an idea whose time had come.”
1962: Starting from Scratch
In 1962, the New Hampshire Municipal Association rose from the ashes and hired David Mann, as its’ executive director. Legislation that allowed towns to pay dues to a voluntary association was signed into law and cities and towns of New Hampshire once again had a common voice. “We had to pick it up; it was like starting from scratch,” says Mann, who joined the NHMA after serving as the Executive Director of the Vermont Development Commission. Office space was provided to the Association in a state building on South Street by none other than Governor Wesley Powell. Powell was the man who vetoed the measure to allow towns to belong to the NHMA. “I don’t know if he was trying to make amends or not,” says Mann.
Attracting back the membership was not difficult in the early years, thanks to purchasing contracts negotiated with the State. “A town could pay its dues with its savings from supplies – tires, police cruisers – it saved the State money and it saved the cities and towns money.”
The issue of money, how to save it, and how much municipalities got from the state was just as big an issue then as it is now. One of Mann’s biggest successes was a 40% state aid program involving water pollution grants. “That was the highest in the country,” he says. “But I never liked the idea that New Hampshire was fiftieth in state aid.” Mann not only fought for money for municipalities, he also fought for “enabling legislation” which allowed towns and cities more local control over such decisions as regulating junk yards, demolishing buildings, and creating conservation commissions.
Mann also worked to improve local government through such publications as the Selectman’s Handbook, Moderator’s Handbook, and Tax Collector Handbook. Mann even helped organize the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. With a supportive membership and a record of successes, the Association began to evolve into more than just an aid for cities and towns, the NHMA became an organization cities and towns relied on for expertise and information in all areas of local government. This expanded responsibility led to the addition of a personnel expert, a research assistant, and another secretary. The growth meant more space would be needed in the 1970’s so the Association moved to a home at 11 Depot Street in Concord, above what is now a restaurant called Sunny’s Table.
Other notable events and activities during this time period include
In a letter dated August 17, 1962, the NHMA requested of the Attorney General an opinion as to whether the NHMA could purchase supplies from the state’s warehouse. The Attorney General responded “the New Hampshire Municipal Association is a private voluntary association, and is not organized as a governmental subdivision. The fact that its members are municipalities is not sufficient to change the private character of the corporation. Neither can it be deemed to be a state department or institution. In view of the above considerations, the answer to your question must be “no.”
NHMA formed a special committee to meet with Governor John King on traffic paint prices. NHMA had sought to buy traffic paint from the state at state prices. At the time, the “special” municipal price was eight cents higher than the state price.
NHMA sponsored its first group hospital and major medical plan with Blue-Cross-Blue Shield. Such plan enabled small town employees to be covered, as well as providing better rates. Twenty other state municipal leagues already had insurance plans in operation.
New Hampshire Town and City Magazine was enlarged from its 6 X 9 format to the 8 ½ X 11 format that still exists today.
NHMA began to explore the cost of belonging to the state retirement system.
This was the year the NHMA released its comprehensive report entitled, Strengthening Local Government in New Hampshire. The Report was greatly anticipated by members and dealt with the basic governmental structure and intergovernmental relationships and made recommendations to improve local government services and relationships in certain functional areas such as public safety, public works and utilities, health and planning.
In 1964, there were only 223 towns, two of which were established solely for the purpose of electing representatives to the lower house. Only 10 towns had populations over 5,000. In fact, the median population of all towns was about 850. The ten cities of the state had a total population of about 310,000, or a little over half of the state total population at the time. There were about 70 village districts and 24 unincorporated places. The 1960 census revealed a total population of 76 persons living in these unincorporated places, the vast majority of which were located in Coos County, the northernmost county of the state.
Poll of membership indicated assessing, town planning, local relief and junkyard control were the most pressing issues facing municipalities, followed by zoning, police and subdivision control.
Speaker of the House Walter Peterson addressed the NHMA regarding the need for a 2 ½% state income tax to eliminate the stock-in-trade, interest and dividends and livestock taxes.
The Association voted to support a welfare program with towns and cities providing general relief for the first thirty days with a thirty day settlement law. At the time, New Hampshire spent $9 per capita less to meet welfare costs than other New England states, whose average was $24.30.
In 1965, New Hampshire cities and towns received less state aid or shared taxes than anywhere in the United States. Property taxes as a percent of total state-local taxes were the third highest in the United States (63.4% of total state-local share).
NHMA explored the possibility of forming an NHMA Advisory Committee, comprised of presidents of local officer associations including the town clerks, welfare, tax collectors, fire and police chiefs, public and water works associations.
NHMA awarded two grants totaling $2,500 to study the removal of junk autos.
NHMA explored proposing state legislation enabling cities and towns to borrow in anticipation of receipt of federal aid. Allowing towns and cities to set up special tax district for specified services in urban areas was added to NHMA’s policy positions.
NHMA endorsed a new legislative policy to grant authority to towns to form economic development commissions with members appointed by selectmen.
NHMA officials held a conference with Senate President Stewart Lamprey and House Majority Leader Marshall Cobleigh. Lamprey was glad to see NHMA slugging it out for what it felt was right and said the settlement law study was one of the results. He also stated the average legislator feels that NHMA gives careful consideration to legislation and does not put in frivolous bills. Mr. Cobleigh said that NHMA has an idealistic label but it shouldn’t stop promoting progressive measures since the Legislature needs a group to stimulate progress.
NHMA voted to support a constitutional home rule amendment to allow cities and towns residual powers – those not specifically denied to cities and towns by the legislature or constitution. It also voted to prevent the legislature from riddling the property tax with exemptions without replacement.
Pressing concerns or issues among members were election laws, conducting a town meeting, budget committees, development control, taxes, and regional planning.
NHMA received a $2,500 grant to hire a research assistant to study ambulance services in New Hampshire and make recommendations to better the system.
New category of associate membership is formed for individuals at a cost of $5.00 per year.
NHMA endorsed the need for tax reform. Since the property tax had increased 23% over the past two years and since the state is a low 50th in state aid for local services, the enactment of a broad-based state income or sales tax with its revenues used to either provide more aid for local services or to finance state and county costs now borne by local property taxes was supported.
In 1968, cities and towns maintained 9,250 miles (70%) of the 13,218 total state and local highway mileage.
NHMA North Country meeting was held at the Town and Country Inn in Shelburne. Room prices were $10 for a single and $14 for a double room. Two meals were available at $5.00 per plate and golf was $2.50.
Membership dues totaled $23,900.
NHMA urged repeal of certain vagrancy statutes, specifically RSA 576, Punishment of Tramps. RSA 576 allowed mayors and selectmen to appoint special constables to arrest tramps and provide a $10 bounty on conviction.
Membership dues for village districts increased from $15 to $25. At the time, only six of the 70 village districts were NHMA members.
To balance the budget, some legislators suggested taking $10.5 million school aid and $4.5 million in rooms and meals tax aid from cities and towns. Sound familiar?
Rep. Alex Cochrane briefed the Executive Committee on the legislative session and was kind enough to say “the selectmen in New Hampshire are the backbone of the state.”
Rep. George B. Roberts, Jr., House committee chairman, recommended passage of a bill that would require all cities and towns to have an up-to-date tax map by January 1, 1980. Map must show boundary lines of each parcel of land and be properly indexed and open to public inspection during regular business hours. NHMA would only support if the state provided at least 50% of the funding.
The average city manager’s salary in New Hampshire was $16,123.
NHMA membership stood at 13 member cities and 173 towns.
As a result of 1969 changes to the bond law, the town of Salem invited all city and town officers to Salem High School for a meeting with Governor Walter Peterson. NHMA staff felt the 1969 bond law was of no help to harried municipal officials.
A proposed amendment to existing NHMA policy called for “Septic disposal stations should be maintained by all towns so that the 110 “honey wagons” do not dump septic tank wastes indiscriminately.”
The New Hampshire Planners Association, the New Hampshire Assessors Association, the New Hampshire Government Purchasing Association, and the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Commissions became affiliate members of NHMA.
Primary legislative concerns in 1971 were revenue sharing, water supply and pollution control, solid waste disposal, highway aid, retirement program and collective bargaining.
NHMA offices located at 64 South Street in Concord.
Eugene C. Struckhoff, who served as an unpaid founding member and NHMA legal counsel in the late 1950’s, was recognized as an honorary member. Attorney Struckhoff was another prime mover who pulled NHMA together and made possible a Spaulding grant to provide professional staff.
In a controversial move, the NHMA increased its membership dues by 25% in order to expand its services and legislative capabilities to meet the increasing complexities of local government and to insure a viable relationship of the local government to the state and federal governments.
NHMA supported the towns of Henniker, Bradford and others in contesting an action brought by the New Hampshire Legal Assistance Office against the paid towns, which action seeks to impose external standards for town poor relief. This action represented yet another case of outside mandated programs which cost the tax payers money.
Fire Chiefs Association of New Hampshire become affiliate members of NHMA.
$10 Residence Tax produced over $2,077,718 for cities and towns in 1972. NHMA supported combining the $5 state head tax and $2 local poll tax into one tax for better administration and worth.
Governor’s Executive Order No. 15 reduced the then-11 organized regional planning districts down to six super regions. This Order put the status of existing regional staff and plans very much in flux.
NHMA moved offices to 11 Depot Street, 3rd floor office space providing two offices, toilet facilities, and five parking spaces. The staff consisted of three professional staff and one administrative secretary.
NHMA investigated public liability insurance for municipal officials as well as a group workmen’s compensation plan. Present group NHMA programs on health, income disability, and life insurance have provided members with good coverage at a lower cost for municipal employees.
Executive Committee voted to request legislation at the special session to help cities and towns meet the extraordinary costs of state foster child care in institutional and group homes.
NHMA’s executive director salary was $17,600 in 1973.
NHMA offered members a workmen’s compensation group plan with Argonaut Insurance.
NHMA called on all municipalities, gas stations, and citizens to cooperate with basic Granite State Plan (even-odd system of gas distribution).
David Mann retired from the Association, which stood at 195 member municipalities and a staff of five full-time employees. Looking back over his tenure, Mann says he is proud of the fact that he helped to take the Association from its groundwork, laid by Richard Marden, to the point where the state government and the legislature respected the Association as an effective organization representing the collective concerns of the towns and cities, which truly are the State of New Hampshire.
Strengthening Local Government in New Hampshire, A Survey Report, 1964
“A pattern of (ideal) intergovernmental relations would provide (1) a strong and vital state government assuming fiscal and administrative responsibilities characterized by statewide interests and (2) local units of government organized in an efficient and responsive manner to perform delegated local functions and services with a minimum of state interference.” That is one of the main conclusions of the $25,000 study, Strengthening Local Government in New Hampshire, which was prepared for the New Hampshire Municipal Association by Public Administrative Service, a prominent private governmental research organization. The first critical analysis of New Hampshire local government and its relation to the State in over thirty years, the study was sponsored by the Association from a grant obtained from the Spaulding Potter Charitable Trusts.
Requirement for Effective Local Government
“The substance of local government is in the services it renders to the community. This is the justification for its existence. Local government derives strength from the things it undertakes to do. It is the community, acting through its chosen officials, that, by providing for its own needs and solving its own problems, develops strong local government. The essence of this process is not the form of local political organization, nor even the manner by which officials are selected. The essence lies rather in the political environment that permits and encourages people to undertake governmental programs that have substance. The existence of a multiplicity of governmental units and the repeating of political generalizations about local autonomy are meaningless if a local government unit does not possess administrative, fiscal, and political resources to make it a self-governing community. Many of the towns in New Hampshire are not effective instruments of local self-government. They simply do not have the fiscal resources nor the talents to support services.”
Source: Strengthening Local Government in New Hampshire, A Survey Report. 1964