NHMA is Strong

By Judy A. Silva, Executive Director

Out of the mayhem and upheaval of the “LGC” regulatory process, NHMA has emerged sound and strong, with solid member support, an accomplished staff, and an engaged board of directors. While the past couple of years have been challenging, as NHMA took on a variety of functions that in prior years had been executed by other staff, we have found that we have all sharpened our focus on meeting the needs of our municipal members. NHMA staff and board members have dedicated their energies to developing an organization ready and able to address the issues facing local governments, through advocacy efforts, educational workshops and publications, and legal services.

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Despite a reduction in total staff since 2012, NHMA services have remained available and in demand. We appreciate the feedback from members that this recent transition has appeared virtually seamless from the outside—we worked hard to make that happen. I encourage you to explore our web site (www.nhmunicipal.org), where you can find a wealth of useful information. We also developed some new initiatives over the past two years to continue to serve our members in this “new normal” situation.

  • NewsLink became an NHMA publication. When it became apparent that NewsLink was going to be “retired” by the risk pools, NHMA jumped on the opportunity to make it our own. As a bi-weekly e-newsletter, it has become one of the main tools NHMA uses to let members know of important news, events, and upcoming webinars and workshops, both NHMA-produced and those of municipal interest done by others. Contact us if you want to subscribe.
  • The Court Update now appears in NewsLink to get that information to you on a much more timely basis. Every two weeks we can report on new cases, which provides much faster notice to you than the bi-monthly magazine, and the case summaries are posted on our web site as well. In addition to New Hampshire and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, we include Superior Court and BTLA decisions of which we are notified, as they can be very instructive.
  • Webinars have been embraced by NHMA staff as well as our members. We did our first webinar in March of 2013, and since then have produced at least one each month. Attendance has been great, and we have been able to offer these to members at no cost. We recently purchased NHMA’s own webinar software, so it will be clear that NHMA is providing the service. Webinars are proving to be a great way to reach local officials and employees from all over the state without the cost of travel or concern for the weather, and we welcome your suggestions for topics or “guest” presenters.
  • Quarterly Right-to-Know Law Workshops in different locations around the state have become a new standard NHMA program. The Right to Know law is a daily reality for local governments, and it can be difficult for even the most conscientious local officials to follow. These complimentary presentations are just one piece of NHMA’s programming on this important subject, and there is always time for questions.
  • NHMA On Demand is a fee-based training option we created to meet the demand for local, in-the-field educational presentations. The On Demand service enables municipal boards and officials to choose from a menu of program topics to get the training they need when they want it—and without the need to travel. Municipalities can go it alone, or they can invite officials from surrounding member towns to join them and share in the cost. High-level dues members are entitled to one free On Demand program each calendar year.
  • Web-based data input for the Municipal Officials Directory and the Wage and Salary Survey has been a technological advancement praised by both our members and our staff! This time-saving development, thanks to the expertise of our IT services providers, is much easier for all involved than the multiple exchanges of paper with handwritten updates necessitated by the old way. Another benefit is that the information can be updated any time there is a change, making it easier to keep up to date. The Wage and Salary Survey is now done every other year, and is currently available as a download.
  • Stumbles. They are bound to happen to all of us. And when we found modifications that did not work for our members, we looked to change. For example, no one seemed to like the electronic materials that we provided with the 2013 Municipal Law Lecture Series—so the 2014 lectures returned to printed handbooks. And everyone missed the poster-sized Calendar of Important Dates, which was available only electronically in 2013. So…in September, we mailed poster-sized versions to all our members. We try to be responsive to member requests.

In 2013, Town and City magazine became an all-NHMA publication. We had never done the magazine from start to finish before; NHMA staff had only contributed articles. Now we manage the mailing list, coordinate with the printer, oversee all advertising, and provide content. NHMA staff stepped up to the plate and took on that challenge.

In 2013, the annual conference also became an NHMA responsibility. From 2004 to 2012, the annual conference had been an “LGC” event, produced by the sizeable communications department with several sessions presented by NHMA staff. With the dissolution of LGC, NHMA staff took on the challenge—only without the sizeable communications staff! The NHMA board jumped right in to help, volunteering at the registration desk and the NHMA booth, distributing and collecting evaluations, and handing out raffle tickets at conference sessions. As a result, the 2013 NHMA Annual Conference, while a little smaller than previous years, was a great success.

The 2014 NHMA Annual Conference—Local Government: Making it Happen! will be held on November 12 and 13. We have expanded our session offerings this year by using additional space in the conference facility, and we will again have a full exhibit hall. If you are an employee or official from an NHMA member municipality, you can sign up on our web site or just show up!

NHMA staff are tough, resilient, and dedicated, and they are key to NHMA’s strength today. While there have been some staff changes, we have been fortunate to bring on talented, experienced, knowledgeable people, and we have maintained a core of seasoned professionals. There are a total of just nine hard-working NHMA employees who bring you all the programming described here. I can say without hesitation that every member of the staff shares my strong belief in NHMA’s mission: working to strengthen New Hampshire cities and towns and their ability to serve the public.

Also key to NHMA’s revitalization is strong board support. The board took on more responsibility, as all traditional “league” services were brought back under NHMA oversight. A greater time commitment was required as board members reached out to municipal officials and played a strong role in advising and guiding staff through the challenging times. One of the first things undertaken by the board and staff was the development of an NHMA Services Plan. This plan now appears on our web site and has helped us all keep our focus on member services.

Through all of this, NHMA has maintained the core services for which it has always been known. Here is what has been happening:

Legal Services. NHMA attorneys have answered over 2,835 legal inquiries so far in 2014; over 3,844 in 2013. Inquiries come from every facet of local government and cover just about every aspect of municipal operations—which is incredibly broad. Questions cover roads, solid and hazardous waste, election procedures, RTK/ATVs/GASB/NHRS/CDBG/MS5/DRA, personnel issues, local welfare, cemeteries, tax deeding, conflict of interest—real or imagined, spending rules, town meeting, and more. The variety is endless, which makes the job of answering the inquiries rewarding, and also provides a window on the complexity of local government.

Sometimes there is an easy answer to an inquiry, but more often than not, the law is less than clear. Our goal is always to give you a thorough, well-reasoned answer, and that may mean we need to ask for more information, do some research, or consult with other staff. The issues that come up in legal inquiries inform NHMA’s advocacy efforts and educational materials as well.

Advocacy. In the 2013 legislative session, an unprecedented fourteen (yes—14) NHMA policies were enacted into law, including several items in the state budget that restored funding to municipalities. The 2014 session saw four NHMA policies adopted, including an increase for municipal highway and bridge aid through the road toll increase. It is important to remember, however, that frequently NHMA’s biggest accomplishments are in successfully opposing legislation that would make municipal operations more costly or less efficient! More information about how municipalities fared in the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions can be found in the NHMA Legislative Bulletin on NHMA’s web site under Advocacy.

In September, NHMA held its 2015-2016 Legislative Policy Conference, at which close to 60 delegates from member municipalities established NHMA’s legislative agenda for the next biennium. You will find an insert in this Town & City magazine containing those policies. We rely on municipal officials during the legislative session to call their local representatives and senators to explain how certain bills will affect local government—either for the good or the bad—because in our experience, local officials carry great weight with those who represent them in state government.

Workshops and Educational Programs. NHMA has continued providing the high quality training programs our members expect. This year and last, we produced two Moderators Workshops—one for SB2 municipalities and one for municipalities with traditional meetings, five Local Officials Workshops held in different locations around the state, two Budget and Finance Workshops, a Local Welfare Workshop, and the series of three Municipal Law Lectures, also held in locations around the state. For these workshops we revised and updated Knowing the Territory, the Town Meeting/School Meeting Handbook, The Basic Law of Budgeting, and other publications, to make sure the information is as up to date as possible.

We value the support of all of our members. Throughout the uncertainties of the last few years, NHMA has remained single-minded in its intention to maintain the highest quality services in support of local government. While we are still adjusting to our new world, NHMA is strong, because our members stood by us. For that we are most appreciative.

Cordell Johnston, Government Affairs Counsel, is a jack of all trades and a master of many! The breadth of his knowledge and the strength of his drive have carried us far.

Barbara Reid, Government Finance Advisor, is the source of information for all things financial. Her knowledge and skill have been invaluable in working on NHMA’s budget and in protecting municipal interests in the state budget. And while she may not take this as a compliment, her legal analysis is superb!

Pam Valley, Administrative Assistant, knows what we need before we know, and is always prepared to meet whatever the need may be. She may seem quiet, but she misses nothing, and is the first person callers speak to when they dial NHMA.

Tim Fortier, Communications and Member Services Coordinator, may receive the award for the “most new job responsibilities learned” over the past two years, as he has taken on the role of editor of Town & City magazine, the production of NewsLink, the administration of the NHMA web site, and the management of the annual conference exhibit hall. And he does it all with a smile.

Judy Pearson, Member Relations Coordinator, had the faith to join us at the height of 2013’s disarray, and we are so glad she did! Her skillful oversight of all of NHMA’s publications is no small task, and includes hard copy and electronic materials and the NHMA online store. She is one of the masterminds behind the online submission of data for the directory and the salary survey, and she just has one good idea after another.

Ashley Monier, Conference and Workshop Coordinator, joined us in 2014 to return to her passion of event organizing, and her passion has clearly produced great results. She is incredibly organized and thoughtful about each event she works on, and she makes notes about what to do next time before the event is even over!

Steve Buckley joined NHMA as Legal Services Counsel and hit the ground running. Fortunately for all involved, his 30 years in private practice representing municipalities and his involvement in his home town’s government left him well prepared for the challenge. He brings new energy, ideas, and enthusiasm to NHMA.

Margaret Byrnes, joined us in September as a Staff Attorney. She too has prior experience in municipal law, and teaches legal writing to law students, so she is a natural to contribute quality material to our handbooks and magazine.

Judy A. Silva is executive director at the New Hampshire Municipal Association. Judy can be reached at 603.224.7447.