By Mark T. Broth
In July 2018, Business NH Magazine published a list of the five largest employers in each of the State’s ten counties. Interestingly, local governments (either counties, municipalities, or school districts) were among the top five in seven counties. In two counties, local governments held two of the top five positions. It is interesting that neither the City of Manchester nor the Manchester School District, the largest municipality and the largest school district in the State, did not make the list, due to the number of large private sector employers located in Hillsborough County.
What is the significance of this information? It certainly suggests that local governments are dealing with human resource issues on the same scale as the largest private sector businesses in their communities. But I would respectfully suggest that the burdens on public sector employers are substantially greater than those placed upon the private sector. With the exception of the utility sector and a handful of manufacturers, the New Hampshire private sector is a non-union work environment. In contrast, the vast majority of public sector employees in the State that are eligible to unionize have done so. This means that public employers carry the additional responsibility of good faith collective bargaining and, through the Public Employees Labor Relations Board, an additional layer of State oversight of their labor relations practices. Public sector human resources functions are further complicated by the shear scope and breadth of municipal responsibilities. In the private sector, businesses focus on offering a discreet list of products or services, while municipal governments are designed to gather diverse services under one roof. It is hard to imagine a private sector employer that would try to offer services ranging from recreation to road repair, law enforcement to libraries, or from emergency medical services to environmental services. While private employers can generally operate under work rules common to all employees, public employers must, in addition to common work rules, establish and enforce rules and procedures unique to their separate operating departments. Police, fire, public works, recreation, and libraries each perform distinctly different functions and the rules policies and procedures governing their respective employees must account for those differences.
The scope and complexity of local government is not limited to human resources issues. Like the private sector, local governments must comply with federal and state laws of general applicability. In addition, they must also comply with laws unique to the public sector and display a level of transparency and public accountability far beyond that of even the most heavily regulated private businesses. Not only must local governments comply with laws, but they are also uniquely responsible for enforcing laws within their jurisdiction.
It has been all too easy for all too long for the general public to criticize local government. It is worth taking a step back to contemplate the scope of what are communities expect local governments to do with limited funding and staffing. Few private sector businesses could operate as efficiently as local government is forced to as a result of the public’s reluctance to see tax increases. It is ironic that citizens gladly write checks for homeowner’s insurance, a benefit that the majority will never actually use, but will complain about the tax rate that funds the police and fire personnel that actually show up when an emergency arises.
Local governments play a vital role in making New Hampshire one of the most livable states in the nation. Like our friends at other New Hampshire law firms that focus on representing local governments, my colleagues at the Drummond Woodsum firm law firm and I are proud to support the elected and appointed officials who make local government work. At the 2018 NHMA conference, we were pleased to have the opportunity to announce the expansion of our municipal law practice through our merger with Gardner, Fulton & Waugh. We are also proud of our status as one of very few large New England law firms that has the capability to offer the full range of legal services that municipal governments require.
Mark Broth is a member of DrummondWoodsum’s Labor and Employment Group. His practice focuses on the representation of private and public employers in all aspects of the employer-employee relationship. This is not a legal document nor is it intended to serve as legal advice or a legal opinion. Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, P.A. makes no representations that this is a complete or final description or procedure that would ensure legal compliance and does not intend that the reader should rely on it as such. “Copyright 2019 Drummond Woodsum. These materials may not be reproduced without prior written permission.”
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