Bob Sullivan’s excellent adventures as Portsmouth’s 40-year attorney

Imagine. Forty years on the job. That alone is an achievement. How many of us have spent 40 years on the same job? And loving it.

That’s 2,080 TGIFs, and counting.

Jim Splaine

Jim Splaine

Since his first day, Monday, July 26, 1982, Bob Sullivan has attended more than 700 City Council meetings, plus a similar number of work sessions and budget meetings. And staffing thousands of boards, commission and committee meetings. Add writing what must be several million words that have become statutes and put into the city’s law books.

The coffee bill itself is staggering.

I was on the council for 12 of his years and saw him cope with some of his most difficult adventures, including the Geraldine Webber tragedy of several years ago, the Toyota controversy and the McIntyre saga. I observed true professionalism. He seldom raises his voice, even when the council majority overrules his advice, and gets itself into trouble. Some of that was seen during the two years of our previous council, resulting in a lawsuit that cost taxpayers dearly — money we would have saved if we had listened to him.

Previous stories: city-attorney-bob-sullivan-says-40-years-not-enough/10090096002/” data-ylk=”slk:Bob Sullivan can’t bring himself to retire as Portsmouth’s attorney just yet” class=”link “>Bob Sullivan can’t bring himself to retire as Portsmouth’s attorney just yet

When Bob began his service I was in the state Senate, interacting with him on city-state issues. Then in 1987, the City Council asked voters to create a nine-member Charter Commission, with the mission to fully review the document for the first time in 100 years. An election was held, and I became chair of the group. We spent a year holding hearings about everything from our form of government, authority of the council, taxing and budgeting, the process of elections, and dozens of other things.

Bob Sullivan guided us well. Few people have actually read our charter in full. During our work, Bob wrote every word — and that’s something no one else can claim to have done. He understands it better than anyone.

He and I have had occasional “misadventures” as well. Such as in 1990 when I joined the majority of councilors in moving him and the city manager from the front of the Council Chamber seats into the audience — I apologized to him a few months later as we returned them front-and-center where they have since remained. And a few years ago, I called for him to step down as chair of the Coakley Landfill Group when I joined a successful New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law lawsuit against the city by state Reps. Mindi Messmer and Renny Cushing.

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He never seemed to take it personally. In what I have seen of him and his 40-year career, I have learned to admire and respect this decent, honorable man.

Former Major Bob Lister remembers a little adventure of his own. “He joined me for several excursions to Lawrence (Massachusetts) to enjoy the famous beach pizza at Tripoli, the outstanding pork pies at Thwaites Market, and experience the different cultures of the people in the bakeries. Once, he even took the opportunity to practice his Spanish skills. That was pretty interesting.”

I asked City Manager Karen Conard what she thought Bob might be doing in five or 10 years. “I would say that in addition to enjoying his fishing and hunting exploits, he would make a fabulous substitute teacher. What a gift for storytelling he has.”

Teaching a new generation to aspire to higher ideals would be a great adventure for this man of many talents.

So, Bob — what is your next adventure? Along with teaching, how about being a citizen advocate? With democracy under threat these days, and so many economic hard times ahead, your incredible passion and knowledge would be an extraordinary asset in that role. Many people locally need to have someone represent them in their fight for affordable housing, heat, health care, the need for food security, and help in their fight for the right to vote.

As Robert Frost wrote, “For I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Today’s quote: “After 40 years with the city, Bob has a long list of friends who want to come to a party in his honor to wish him well. And some who want to make certain that he really retires!” — From a retirement party announcement at the Elks Lodge on Thursday, Sept. 29. He presumably will be present.

Next time: Servant leadership: Serving others well.

Jim Splaine has served variously since 1969 as Portsmouth assistant major, Police Commission member, and School Board member, as well as New Hampshire state senator and representative. He can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: portsmouth-attorney/10391234002/” data-ylk=”slk:Splaine: Bob Sullivan’s excellent adventures as Portsmouth attorney” class=”link “>Splaine: Bob Sullivan’s excellent adventures as Portsmouth attorney

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