Sept. 29--CONCORD -- The state attorney general is considering a request by former gubernatorial candidate Arnie Arnesen to investigate the distribution of $7 million to the University of New Hampshire and St. Anselm College under the terms of a consent agreement reached more than a decade ago with Tyco International.
"From the get-go, these guys have been loosey-goosey about what they want and how they make decisions," said Arnesen, referring to a board headed by Secretary of State Bill Gardner, along with former Gov. John Lynch and former University System of New Hampshire Chancellor Edward MacKay, among others.
The board recently allocated $5 million to UNH and $2 million to St. Anselm without a competitive bidding process that involved other schools.
"We're not talking about chicken feed. Seven million dollars in New Hampshire is a lot of money, especially when you are talking about education," Arnesen said.
Gardner has been directing the effort to come up with the best use for the money since the Tyco deal was struck in 2002. He said the process has been open and fair, and that if he had to do it all over again, he'd follow the same procedure.
"I'm very pleased with the result of this," he said. "The judgment of this decision will be made over a long period of time. People will look back on what we did and be very approving, and that was my goal in the first place."
Arnesen agrees there was no legal requirement for a formal RFP, (Request for Proposals), but she says that's not the point.
"It would be surprising if their answer to the failure to establish an open and competitive process for distribution of the settlement dollars was that it was not required by the terms of the settlement," she said.
"Can you imagine having to tell a secretary of state, a governor, a chancellor of the university system that they need to be open and transparent and fair in assigning public dollars, especially when there are so many fine private institutions in New Hampshire that would be prepared to step up to the job of educating the public on the highest standards of corporate responsibility and investor protection?"
Arnesen's written request to the attorney general is under consideration, according to Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice.
"We are still reviewing the matter to determine the appropriate course of action," she said.
Arnesen said her request is not intended to generate sanctions or even to reverse the actions that have been taken, but to inform future decisions on how settlement funds should be managed when the settlements occur outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice and the state Legislature.
An unusual deal
There may never be another settlement like the Tyco deal. It was struck in 2002 between the Exeter-based company's board of directors and the state Bureau of Securities Regulation to avoid an "enforcement action" by the bureau against the board for failing to properly supervise CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who was later convicted in criminal court for defrauding the company of more than $130 million.
"Faced with the prospects of lengthy, costly and risky litigation of an unprecedented nature, the bureau endeavored to engage in this unique agreement to fund programs to address investor education, proper corporate governance and business ethics," wrote Gardner in a letter responding to Arnesen's complaint.
Tyco signed a consent agreement, handing over $5 million to be managed "under the direction" of the secretary of state, with a provision that a portion of the fund be dedicated to business ethics education at UNH. In the 10 years that followed, the money was held and invested by the University of New Hampshire Foundation, and grew to $7 million.
Soon after the settlement was reached, the USNH Board of Trustees created the Center for Public Responsibility and Corporate Citizenship Board, with Gardner as chairman. The board hired Myron Kandel, financial editor for CNN, as its first director in 2005 and sponsored several high-profile forums on ethical business behavio