For the past month or more, the three of us have struggled to open the “Merner Matter” to public review.
Through the use of multiple right-to-know requests, we have tried to let the sun shine in on the facts of this case, facts which now show that a man who did not live in a Lancaster legislative district ran for the House from that district, won, and then wrongly served for nine months.
Merner was sworn in on December 6, 2022 even though the Speaker’s Office in the House knew he was not qualified to hold the office, and even though there were repeated complaints about his doing so.
The elements of this disgraceful episode that most concern us are not those centered on the allegedly criminal behavior of Merner (he has been charged with a felony), but on the way in which the public’s right to know has been, and continues to be, trampled by the institutions of our government. The Department of Justice received an initial complaint about Merner’s non-resident status well before the date on which members of the House were to be sworn in. They investigated in secret, and then communicated their findings about Merner’s wrong doing to the Chief Operations Officer of the Legislature. He communicated their findings to the Speaker’s Office, but not the Democratic Office or the Senate, and the Speaker did nothing.
The Speaker’s Office continued to do nothing until September, and as a result Merner voted on many issues of great importance to the State. Why did this happen? Who knew what was going on, and why did they permit it to continue. Did those who let this happen break any criminal laws? And why was the runner-up who got fewer votes but was qualified to serve as the rep from Lancaster not notified by the AG’s office and sworn in? Was the Secretary of State notified? Why did it take nine months for Merner to be removed?
These are not partisan inquiries. The answers will impact the public’s faith in our volunteer legislature, and the apparent honesty of our leaders and public institutions. We believe that these questions, and all the others like them, must be answered fully and quickly.
To that end, we believe that the way to proceed is to impanel a nonpartisan commission to investigate what happened, chaired by someone of exceptional reputation like recently retired Justice Gary Hicks.
The panel should be composed of experienced citizens with the power to subpoena documents and witnesses. There must be a balance between Republicans and Democrats, and at least three members should be independents. All parties involved (including the AG’s Office) must be required to make public their documents, writings and recordings. The commission must make its report quickly so that remedial steps may be taken, if required.
This is important work, yet there are forces that would prefer silence. Silence however is the enemy of the public’s rights. Now is the time New Hampshire must act.
Sen. Peter Hoe Burling (retired), Sen. Mark Hounsell (retired), Paul Twomey Esq.
Disclainer: The opinions expressed are those of the authors. InDepthNH.org takes no position on political matters.