Gunstock Area Commission

Comments to the Belknap County Delegation November 16, 2021:

We are here tonight to address what has become a hot topic around Belknap county and beyond; Gunstock Mountain Resort.

Let’s start with a point on which all agree; Gunstock is a valuable county asset. As such it is in the interest of all in the county to assure it continues to be properly run and maintained. As far as I know there is no one that is interested in closing or harming Gunstock.

Many people have been chiming in with their opinions on the proper operation of the Gunstock ski area. Having attended most Gunstock Area Commission (GAC) meetings for the past couple of years I have to ask, where have you been?

If all those who write letters to the local paper had been attending GAC meetings, we might not be in the position which requires involvement of the delegation. The letters you write are based solely on information delivered by sources that have their own agenda. You have been used to support a plan of which you know little. Even those who have been following the actions of the GAC have only partial knowledge of the soon to be revealed Master Plan. It might be a useful exercise to ask the GAC when they voted to approve the Master Plan and when the public was allowed to comment on said plan.

Gunstock is a county owned and operated asset. It is not a private business. The GAC is a public body appointed by the Belknap county delegation. As a public entity it is required to adhere to the public meeting laws under RSA 91-A. The development of the Master Plan has had little to no public input and seems to have been produced by a subcommittee of the GAC, yet such a subcommittee has not met publicly nor produced minutes of any meetings. If this is true it is a violation of the right-to-know law, RSA 91-A. If it is not true the GAC can produce records of meeting dates and minutes, along with recommendations from the subcommittee made to the GAC. I have seen no evidence supporting the existence of such records.

GAC By-laws

Article II

Article III

Many letter writers have questioned the timing of the delegations action against members of the GAC. It was not the delegation that demanded the removal of commissioner Ness. The GAC put this issue on the table when they produced a defamatory and baseless claim against Ness. The GAC voted to get a legal opinion regarding the validity of their ethics policy, yet the resulting report from attorney Quarles wandered into defamatory allegations which lacked support of any witnesses or testimony. The GAC voted to censure commissioner Ness without due process. This key failure, to assure that the claim which was delivered to the delegation had merit, is the reason it was dismissed.

While there is currently insufficient evidence available, the GAC votes lacking verifiable facts might be considered reckless and harmful actions against a public official and should be referred to the Attorney General. The report produced by attorney Quarles went beyond the issue of the ethics policy which was approved by the GAC. The report was clearly defamatory. Motivation for the production of the report may be tied to commissioner Ness’ diligence in seeking information necessary to his duties as a member of the GAC. As the scope of work was beyond that which had been authorized, a case for the misuse of funds may be made. Improper Influence – RSA 640:3, Criminal defamation, RSA 644:11, Obstructing Government Administration, RSA 642:1, Official Oppression – RSA 643:1, Conspiracy – RSA 629:3, are criminal elements that may be at issue, along with civil claims that could be brought in the future.

It has been said that the actions of the delegation are unprecedented, and it is true. Unfortunately it is also extremely rare for a board to seek the removal of one of its own members. Once again the delegation is not the initiator of the events. We as a delegation have a duty to ensure that the GAC is properly serving in the public interest. To do anything less is to shirk our responsibilities.

Among many false allegations is an assertion that Gunstock might be closed. This is pure nonsense. Those who spread such absurdities only wish to irresponsibly drum up fear. One is left to speculate as to the source. Perhaps the Laconia Daily Sun would like to advise the public as to the people behind Citizens For Gunstock’s full page ads, or those 2 pages of petition signatures. Sadly it is unlikely that those who signed the petition had much knowledge of that which they signed.

The GAC repeatedly claims credit for the great performance of Gunstock in the past year. While it was a very good year, it would be hard to find a business in outdoor recreation that did not do extremely well in the year of COVID19; housebound people were deprived of their normal activities which would have them in close contact with other people. Boston area skiers unable to get on airplanes swarmed to the north making it a great year for all eastern ski areas. It certainly didn’t hurt to have a reasonably good winter for snow cover. This is said not to diminish the efforts of the employees but to simply put the great fiscal performance in perspective.

Speaking of the financial success of Gunstock, the GAC never fails to remind the public that they have always paid off in a timely fashion their Revenue Anticipation Notes (RAN). It is indeed true. What they never mention is the $6,000,000 default in 2000 which was picked up by county taxpayers. I can assure you the payments made to the county over the past 20 years have not amounted to recovering that loss. I’ll not venture into what kind of bonding might be suggested in the new Master Plan as I have no such knowledge.

As was noticed on Nov. 6, 2021, “On Monday October 25, 2021 attorney Thomas Quarles presented to the Belknap county delegation a Request for Disqualifications (RFD). This request was addressed from four members of the Gunstock Area Commission (GAC), Kiedaisch, Gallagher, McLear, and Dumais. In this request it is made clear by the use of their titles that they are acting as members of GAC.” What is not clear is how attorney Quarles was hired without a meeting of the GAC. This is contrasted by the vote on Nov. 10, 2021 in a public meeting (for which public comment was not allowed) to have attorney Quarles file for a temporary restraining order against the delegation. It appears that attorney Quarles was hired in an unnoticed meeting, prior to producing the RFD, in violation of RSA 91-A. If true, this stands as ‘just cause’ for removal.

Another perplexing question arises from that Nov. 10, 2021 vote to retain counsel. The temporary restraining order explicitly seeks to protect commissioners Kiedaisch, Gallagher and McLear from removal. They had a clear conflict of interest yet they were the only commissioners voting to approve the motion to engage counsel. Expending funds from Gunstock for their own personal protection might be viewed as ‘just cause’ for removal.

Once again, I know of no one that wants to close or harm Gunstock. My only agenda is open and transparent operation of a county asset. I will continue to work for good government and a successful Gunstock Mountain Resort.

Rep. Mike Sylvia
Chairman, Belknap County Delegation

PUBLIC MEETING NOTICE:

The November public meeting of the Gunstock Area Commission will be held on Wednesday, November 17th at 6PM in the Historic Lodge at Gunstock Mountain Resort. To view the public notice and tentative agenda, please click here

The Duty to Investigate County Affairs

Belknap county delegation

Every two years in New Hampshire almost all elected officials either terminate their service or stand for re-election. Over the course of the past 7 years, documented in this series, many of the faces have changed. In December 2020 over one third of the Belknap County Convention were seated as first term representatives.

While the faces of the Convention have changed, the actions of the commissioners and administration have yet to be subjected to accountability regarding abuses of budget authority.

As you have read, the law is clear regarding appropriations. It is also clear in its path to remedy. One such remedy is provided in RSA 21:17 which allows:

24:17 Investigations. – The county convention by a vote of a majority of all its members may appoint a committee of its own members, not to exceed 5, and not over 3 to be of either of the 2 major political parties, to investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or any person appointed or employed by such officer, which committee shall have power to summon witnesses, examine them under oath, secure a transcript of the testimony and do other necessary acts to conduct such an investigation.

We need not look back to previous years of abuse, 2020 provides a prime, and current example for which the committee of investigation may focus.

Having been granted the authority to transfer up to the sum of $5,000 between departments in the budget, it became clear in October 2020 that one department would exceed its $717,000 appropriation.

Executive Committee minutes Oct. 19, 2020
Executive Committee minutes Nov. 16, 2020

The year ended with department 025180 with a budget of $717,000 showing $919,385.88 having been spent, $202,385.88 more than had been appropriated for the department. (page 13)

Belknap County Convention formed a committee of investigation Dec. 14, 2020

As the chairman of the committee of investigations prepared to line up interviews with staff members, the administration was busy putting roadblocks in his path. They refused to pay for a court reporter to properly record testimony. Without properly recorded testimony under oath no investigation could proceed to gather reliable information.

In order to acquire the necessary testimony it became clear that a court order would be needed to assure payment to a court recorder, getting that court order would now require an attorney to represent the committee of investigation.

Chairman Silber held a meeting of the committee in order to seek approval to hire an attorney, who had agreed to allow payment upon the court’s order. Members of the committee failed to go forward in their duties.

The issue will be returned to the Convention on August 10, 2021 at 7:00 pm to resolve questions surrounding the investigation. Of note, the first meeting of the Convention in December 2020 was a mixed, in person and Zoom remote meeting. Many of our new members were unable to grasp the depth of the issues due to the poor quality of communications via remote technology.

Representatives of Belknap county have a duty to investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or any person appointed or employed by such officer. Failing to fulfill this duty would be an act of nonfeasance.


All the pieces in this series:

Supplemental Appropriation; Another Bite At the Apple

Belknap county delegation

As the ink was still drying on the 2017 Belknap county budget a crisis arose which would require dipping into the county’s contingency fund.

If you want to get Pravda on Winnipesaukee to write some serious fear porn just find a way to put nursing home residents in “danger.” This was clearly contrived to demonstrate the dire ‘lack of funding’ in the budget. It was rejected, and not another peep has been heard in the following years. Sprinkler systems need routine maintenance.

A mere month later the Convention was assembled to hear a request from the county commissioners for a supplemental appropriation. The request for $229,500 failed on a 7-7 tie vote.

On August 8, 2017 the Convention again gathered to hear another request for a supplemental appropriation. The extra $256,852 was approved. At the year-end we would find this exercise was unnecessary and $900,000 would be returned to the county’s fund balance. The time, money and effort that went into getting the supplemental appropriation was not a benefit to the citizens of the county, rather it went to make managing the budget a very simple process – just spend what you have, there is plenty. It’s hard to understand how that can even be considered management.

If you go back through the records you will find that the commissioners hired two law firms to assist in their pursuit of additional funding. They spent $6,540.05 in their zeal to grasp control of appropriating authority. None of that money benefited the citizens of the county, it simply made the commissioners’ job easier. Do you recall this one: 643:1 Official Oppression. – A public servant, as defined in RSA 640:2, II, is guilty of a misdemeanor if, with a purpose to benefit himself or another.

Each time they get away with this sort of behavior, they become bolder in their disregard for the law. Bear in mind as the years roll by that we have differing members of the board of commissioners. One might want to put a bit of thought into why it is that the commissioners continue to act in the same way despite the change in elected officials.

2018 will be a banner year for corruption in the county, we’ll get into that next time…


All the pieces in this series:

Irreparable Harm to the Taxpayers

For far too long the Belknap County Board of Commissioners have been usurping budgetary authority from the county Convention. This was seemingly corrected in 2014 when the Convention won an injunction barring the commission from acting without authority given by the Convention’s Executive Committee.

Some highlights from the court’s ruling:

Upon review, the Court agrees with the petitioner’s argument. The legislature has created a comprehensive scheme of checks and balances for the creation and implementation of county budgets. Voters elect state representatives, who make up the county conventions of the counties from which they are elected. Voters also elect a board of commissioners for each respective county. The commissioners draft proposals for the county budget, which they present to the county convention. The County convention then votes on a finalized budget, taking the commissioners’ proposals into account. Once passed, the effective budget for the following year is returned to the county commissioners so that they may execute it.

Should the petitioner prevail on its merits, then this would necessarily mean that that respondent has been transferring and spending taxpayer money outside of the scope of its authority under law. If the Court were to deny this request for temporary relief, then this would allow the respondent to continue this practice until a final disposition in this suit was rendered.

The possibility of the continued unauthorized transfer and expenditure of taxpayer money, especially in the wake of the likelihood that the petitioner will succeed in this case on the merits as discussed below, creates the prospect of immediate and irreparable harm to the taxpayers of Belknap County. This factor therefore also militates in favor of the Court granting the petitioners request for temporary injunctive relief.

August 28, 2014 ruling from Belknap Superior Court judge James D. O’Neill, III.

If the respondent continues to transfer and expend funds during the pendency of this case, there is the very real possibility that the vast majority of the 2014 budget will be expended by the time the Court issues a final disposition.

Applying the above standard, the Court finds that under the plain meaning of RSA 24:14, line-items in the 2014 budget constitute “appropriations.” RSA 24:14, II defines an “appropriation” as “an amount of money authorized for a specified purpose by the legislative body.” [emphasis added.] In this definition, the legislature made no distinction between money allocated to departments generally and to specific line-items within each department. Instead it defined “appropriations” broadly. The definition on its face suggests that line-items fall under this provision.

Additionally, RSA 24:14, I, states that “[a]ppropriations by the county convention shall be itemized in detail.” (emphasis added.) The legislature’s use of the word “shall” in RSA 24:14, I, not only suggest that conventions are permitted to itemize their budgets, but appears on its face to expressly require them to do so.

This reading of the definition of “appropriations” is also supported by the way in which RSA 24:14 functions in conjunction with RSA 24:15. RSA 24:14, I, grants conventions the power to “require that the county commissioners obtain written authority from the Executive Committee before transferring any appropriation or part thereof under RSA 24:15.” RSA 24:15, III reads:

Unless otherwise ordered by the county convention, under RSA 24:14, whenever it appears that the amount appropriated for a specific purpose will not be used in whole or in part for such purpose, the county commissioners may use such sum to augment other appropriations, if necessary, provided the total payments for all purposes do not exceed the total sum of appropriations in any year made by the county convention.

Thus, while commissioners are generally afforded limited authority to transfer funds between appropriations, county conventions are explicitly reserved the power to regulate these transfers by requiring the written consent of the Executive Committee. If line items were not “appropriations” under RSA 24:14, then this would severely hamper the ability of a county convention to utilize this power. The respondent’s reading of RSA 24:14, I, would give commissioners virtually unfettered ability to transfer funds under RSA 24:15, III without regard to convention restrictions under RSA 24:14, I, as long as transfers were made between line-items within the same budgetary department. County conventions would either have to substantially alter the way by which they formulate budgets in order to ensure that fewer items were outside of the scope of these provisions, or resign themselves to the fact that they have limited oversight over how commissioners expend appropriated funds. This would encompass an unwarranted erosion of the power expressly afforded to the county conventions on the face of RSA 24:14, I.

On March 3, 2015 the county commissioners submitted to the court a stipulation, agreeing to abide by the law and seek transfer authority as adopted in the yearly budget.

You might think this would be the end of budgetary shenanigans at Belknap County. Who could fault you for thinking the commission would abide by their word.

To be continued… It Is Overspent


All the pieces in this series:

Seeking Re-election

Fresh new state representatives Chuck Fink and Mike Sylvia

In 2012 I was recruited to run for office to serve as state representative for Belmont. At the time, the filing period had closed and Republicans had no candidates for both seats. I was convinced to run, and had the good fortune to meet Dr. Chuck Fink. Together we ran a write-in campaign for the primary election that September. We both shared a desire for a limited government as was beautifully documented in our constitutions. On primary day hundreds of people made the effort to write-in Fink and Sylvia. We went on to win in November, serve the people of Belmont, and become good friends.

This year Republicans are fired up. The past two years with Democrats controlling the house and senate in Concord have shown us what happens when Republicans sit out an election, and that’s not happening this year. The only thing that saved the state from becoming Massachusetts North was the governor and his willingness to risk writer’s cramp vetoing that landslide of horrible legislation.

I am running to serve my fifth term in Concord to continue to hold the line against those seeking to expand government. Over the past 8 years I have gained an in depth knowledge of the legislative process in Concord and I will put it to good use for the citizens of Belmont.

Many new state representatives learn what a county delegation is, only after their election. The primary function of the delegation is appropriating funds required for county operations. Learning the ins and outs of the county budget took a few years. I can now confidently say I know it very well. I consider every dollar spent by the county to be a dollar taken from the person with the least to give. To say I take it seriously is an absolute truism.

Having seen many come and go through the seats in Concord, one thing is clear; those who get re-elected do so because they are true to their word. People may disagree on points here and there but when your actions match your words they cannot question your integrity. I believe I meet this standard.

In 2012 the people of Belmont took a leap of faith on an unknown man willing to make a commitment. In 2018 the Belknap County delegation made me their chairman. On September 8th I ask for your support and your vote in the Republican primary.

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Gunstock Changes

In an article I found at Patch, about some changes that have been in the works for a while, I found a few items that could use some clarification.

By Paula Tracy, InDepthNH.org

GILFORD, NH — Belknap County-owned Gunstock ski area is in for some changes as its longtime general manager and its marketing director leave. And legislation is proposed to give legislative leaders more control over the makeup of its governing board and the ski area’s money.

The writer kicks off this article with a pretty clear bias against legislators. The FACT is the legislators and the commission worked together to address deficiencies in the law that unduly restricted Gunstock from more efficient operation.

News of the change at the helm in the middle of the ski season came a day before legislation was heard on a bill to give the county legislative delegation more control over who operates Gunstock and where the money goes.

As to management of the ski area, it is functionally the end of the year and time to begin planning for future operations. As to ‘the money‘, this is more than a small quibble for control of a couple of bucks. The ski area has been rescued by the county taxpayers twice in recent decades. The last was a $6,000,000 bailout in 2000. If you can be bothered to do the math, there is hardly a return on investment, if you chose to look at in such terms.

The current law states that no more than one person from the same municipality can serve on the board but the bill looks to drop that requirement and it would add term limits.

The current law states that no more than one two persons from the same municipality can serve on the board.

The Gunstock Area Commission has a regularly scheduled meeting set for Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. at the ski area.

From the Gunstock web page;

The next meeting of the Gunstock Area Commission will be held Wednesday January 29th at 6pm at the Belkanp County Complex, Meeting Room 2, 34 County Way, Laconia NH 03247.