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N.H. health chief quitting post

Stepping down before term is up

CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen said yesterday that he plans to leave the state's largest department next month, about two months before his four-year term expires.

Stephen, in a letter to Governor John Lynch, said that his last day on the job will be Aug. 14.

Stephen told WMUR-TV that he is leaving early because he knew that Lynch would not reappoint him and that his successor would need to be able to make decisions about the next budget.

Stephen, a Republican, and Lynch, a Democrat, have clashed over healthcare issues in the past. But Stephen said they both shared the goal of taking care of the state's residents in the most cost-effective manner.

Spokesman Colin Manning said the governor thanked Stephen for his service to the state.

"The commissioner's resignation is not entirely unexpected since his term is up in October," Manning said.

"The governor has been clear he's moving in a different direction," Manning added. "He's begun the process of looking for a new commissioner."

In his letter, Stephen recommended Deputy Commissioner Nick Toumpas as the department's next leader. Toumpas's term as deputy expires on Aug. 18, 2008.

Stephen, 44, of Manchester, said that he has not made a decision about his future, but he said he was not done with public service. Observers have said that Stephen could be a potential candidate for governor or US representative in the First Congressional District.

Stephen ran unsuccessfully in 2002 for the GOP nomination in the First Congressional District, losing to Jeb Bradley in the primary. Bradley won the seat.

Governor Craig Benson appointed Stephen commissioner Oct. 8, 2003. Before that, he was assistant commissioner of the Department of Safety. He was named coordinator of homeland security in April 2003. He is also a former state and county prosecutor.

"My three goals upon becoming commissioner were to return maximum value to the citizens and taxpayers of New Hampshire, to change our approach to being proactive and prevention-focused, and to bring transparency and openness to the department," Stephen wrote. "Today, I can say with confidence that we have met each of these goals with tremendous success."

The letter detailed goals reached during Stephen's tenure, such as improving efficiency in the department and improving children's services.