The airways were full of negative campaign ads and mailboxes were bursting with oversized negative postcards and candidates were rushing from place to place last week. They were seeking those elusive uncommitted voters to try to get them on their side.
Many of us were seeking votes but also had meetings and events to attend. Two of those activities seemed especially noteworthy.
Bill Marcello started 42 years ago as a Head Start teacher in Claremont with Southwestern Community Services. Today Bill heads SCS with nearly $20 million of annual revenue, 240 employees, and a wide range of services for residents of Sullivan and Cheshire Counties. Last year, SCS served 31,788 residents representing 17,333 families.
They are taking in, for example, 150 applications a day for fuel assistance during the current enrollment period. Seven weatherization auditors are out every business day evaluating projects for individual homeowners. With its 7 Head Start centers, 237 children attend school each day. And then there are the 8 homeless shelters, the job training and placement programs, lead paint removal projects and services for disabled citizens.
The agency owns and operates 21 housing facilities located from Newport to Jaffrey and Troy. Each facility is designed for seniors or working people who qualify based upon income eligibility. Total housing units exceeds 400.
SCS is not standing still when it comes to more housing for seniors and workers. They have $12 million in projects in the development process. Municipal leaders like SCS housing projects because they fill a need for low income seniors and working families and SCS pays property taxes assessed just like any other property owner in the community.
SCS is a Community Action Program, a national network of local, not-for-profit agencies that have become over the last 50 years the trusted partners for state and federal governments to administer social service programs. These programs are usually long term commitments of the federal government which passes money down the chain to state governments and then on to CAP agencies.
In the case of the October, 2005, flooding that did so much damage to Alstead and other communities in the region, Governor Lynch turned to SCS to organize the distribution of funds, services and goods to help the flood victims. The collaborative work between the state and federal governments and SCS became a model used in the field today.
Representative Ray Gagnon (Claremont) and I have served for several years on the board of directors of SCS as public sector members. At each quarterly meeting, we learn about the number of people served by SCS and how the lives of those recipients are dramatically improved.
Very importantly, if SCS was not there to help the people they serve, many of those individuals and families would be calling upon municipal welfare offices for public assistance.
It is the success of Southwestern Community Services and other larger agencies that has state administrators and policy makers looking to save money and increase efficiency by having small agencies merge into larger organizations. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services contracts with around 4,000 different agencies. The SCS model, where one regional agency manages a wide range of programs, is likely to be the direction followed in the future.
The Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire held its 97th annual dinner last week and named retiring Chief Justice John Broderick, Jr., to receive its Lifetime Achievement Award. The dinner is a big draw for business and community leaders. And even though it came less than a week before the election, there was good representation of Senators and a few House members.
John Broderick has been a strong and visible advocate for the state's court system. His public statements telling the legislature to not keep cutting the judiciary's budget are well known. The most recent reduction of $4 million has brought regular closings of all courts in the state, reductions in the number of hours in some courts that the public can transact business and underlies the slowdown in the appointment of judges to fill vacancies.
The BIA dinner was one of the last times John Broderick would speak as Chief Justice, and he reminded the audience that the New Hampshire constitution, ratified in 1784, is the 2nd oldest constitution and the 2nd shortest in the country. He noted our constitution was ratified five years before the national constitution was ratified.
The constitution was to prevent the abuse of "aggregate power" as the new nation was breaking from Great Britain, the most powerful country in the world at the time. The courts were to be a neutral, independent branch of government free from politics and outside influence so they could make sure equal justice was possible.
Without using the term "funding," the Chief Justice put on the line the responsibility we have to support the courts. They are part of our social compact, "fundamental to the American identity." To support the courts is "keeping faith with our founders" and we will be "failing ourselves" if we do not strengthen our courts which deal with 230,000 cases a year.
He asked what business person would prefer to do business in Russia or a third world country without the protection of our constitution and a responsible constitutionally rooted court system? His message was clear: support our courts as the branch of government that protects our fundamental rights and access to justice.
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