Commissioners say convention majority has already prejudged proposal to expand nursing services

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners, continuing their long-running turf war with the Belknap County Convention, criticized the convention Wednesday morning for what commissioners say is a lack of transparency in its decision making.
''They want to make decisions before they even get here and without any input,'' Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) said as the commissioners collectively expressed their frustrations with the convention.
The remark was touched off by a discussion of what will be taking place at next Tuesday's public hearing on the commission's request for a $200,000 supplemental appropriation to expand the capacity of the nursing home to offer rehabilitative services paid for by Medicare.
Earlier this month Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), the chair of the convention, abruptly cancelled a public hearing to address the request, saying that the county administration failed to provide sufficient information in time for members to make a responsible decision.
Worsman has since said that while questions remain that the convention now has sufficient information.
But commission members say that it now appears that the convention or its leadership has already made a decision and that the public hearing will be just a formality.
''The intent of the leadership is not to deliberate issues in public. They're going to come in with a motion already prepared,'' said County Administrator Debra Shackett, who has prepared a PowerPoint presentation for the public hearing, which will be followed immediately by a meeting at which the convention will vote on the request.
Matt Logue, director of the nursing home, has suggested that by accepting a limited number of patients enrolled in Medicare and referred by hospitals for short stays to undergo physical, occupational and speech therapy, the nursing home would generate $400,000 in additional revenue, enough to cover the cost of expanding the services and return a net gain of $200,000.
County Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) said that the prepared motion would indicate that the convention has already made a decision ''based on data and discussions they already have done'' and said it appears to be a violation of the state's Right-To-Know Law.
He said that if discussions have been held which led to a decision having already been made that the convention would have to disclose what took place.
Shackett said that it appears that the convention is intent on ''not allowing the public to hear the discussion which led to the decision'' but stopped short of calling it a violation of the Right-To-Know law, saying that it isn't clear how many convention members took part in preparing the motion which will be considered.
''I don't know what it is, but is a process which is patently incompatible with open government. It's obvious decisions are being made without having a healthy discussion in public,'' said Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who suggested that the commission send a letter to the convention expressing their concerns and offering to open a discussion about openness in decision making.
The convention will hold the public hearing on the supplemental appropriation request at 6 p.m. next Tuesday at the Belknap County complex.