HB357: Length of Terms for Belknap County Officers

A recent InDepthNH news report covering hearings on bills affecting Belknap County held by the NH House Municipal and County Government Committee has caught our attention here at The Bastion.

The first is HB 483 which seeks to remove the elected house representatives from their county oversight duties as the “County Delegation” and put it with the county Commissioners. This one is basically dead on arrival (or at least it SHOULD be) as it would create a myriad of consequences that would not be worth whatever the supposed benefit.

The other bill considered at the January 26th was one that has considerably more merit, HB 357. This one would change the terms of office for full-time salaried elected county officials from two to four years. For more on this, we turn to Belknap County’s Sheriff Bill Wright, who gave testimony to the committee in favor. He provided the text of his remarks to The Bastion. His position would be directly affected by this proposed change, and he makes a strong case. The text appears below:

Belknap County Sheriff Bill Wright (Ronnie Abbot photo)

House Municipal and County Government Committee 
January 26, 2023

Dear Chairman Turcotte and Members of the Committee: 

My Name Is William Wright, I have spent over 25 years as a full-time law enforcement officer in this State of New Hampshire. I am currently the Sheriff of Belknap County, in my second term as Sheriff.   

I am here today to testify in SUPPORT of HB 357.

I have been employed by the Belknap County Sheriff’s Office since July 2005, beginning as a Deputy Sheriff, being promoted to Sergeant, and now elected Sheriff.

I have worked for three Sheriffs during my employment with the County. Out of the three, two of the previously elected Sheriffs had not served with the Sheriff’s Office in any capacity.  The two Sheriffs had to learn what the duties and responsibilities are as the Sheriff. This took time to become proficient at their positions. Even I, who spent years with the agency and working closely with the outgoing Sheriff, still had a significant learning curve.

As a Sheriff I am expected by the constituents to be a full-time, responsive working senior local law enforcement official who spends time hiring personnel, making policy changes, keeping the peace, making arrests, and ensuring that the constitutional office is held to a high standard or integrity and responsiveness. 

The current legislation requires the Belknap County Sheriff, County Attorney and Registrar of Deeds to be elected every 2 years. As soon as the officials are elected, they in essence begin to campaign the very next day.

As a newly elected official, we begin to institute changes in policy, rules, personnel assignments and overall enhancement of the office. These changes take time to discover the effects, whether positive or negative. Making institutional cultural changes which are necessary, especially demonstrated by the evolution of policing in just the last couple of years, as seen by legislative changes due to LEACT requirements, technology changes (cameras) and effects from the state of citizenry demands, create an environment in need of a constant direction. The ability to be seated for a longer length of time would allow for the ability to develop these changes, continued encouragement of the change and demonstrating accountability. 

As the political climate and work force shortages continue, placing the burden on these full-time County positions to have to campaign constantly, distracts them from performing their duties to the highest standard and prohibits stabilizing the workplace as rooted leadership. Employees and the public are constantly questioning the duration of employment of the official. 

As a graduate of the National Sheriff’s Institute – Class 117, I discussed and was part of a specific study about having a 2-year term as Sheriff. Out of 25 Sheriffs from states across the country, I was the only Sheriff who serves a 2-year term. 

Further, it was discussed how office cultural change would most likely be met with employee resistance and could potentially result in a loss of additional terms. It was said that cultural change would take years, with the average being 6 years. A 4-year term will certainly allow an elected official the opportunity to make cultural changes within the organization, the ability to institute effective law enforcement services for the community, and allow for elected official to demonstrate their abilities to lead their respective agencies and allow for their accountability to the people who elected them to office.

In closing, I ask you that you find HB 357 OUGHT TO PASS.

Thank you for your consideration.

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