Burchell to challenge Thomas for spot on Belknap Commission

GILMANTON — After serving one term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Richard Burchell, a Republican, has decided against seeking re-election and instead will challenge the incumbent, Republican John Thomas of Belmont, for the seat on the Belknap County Commission representing Barnstead, Belmont, Gilmanton and Tilton.

Burchell said Friday that "I'm very happy that I served in the House for two years," but confessed "it's not a day at the beach and can be very frustrating at times. I met some really great people on both sides of the aisle," he continued, "but it was difficult to get used to the ways they do things."

Meanwhile, as tensions between the Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission mounted, first over the county budget and then over the county jail, Burchell said he "became more interested in county government," where he remarked "you can have a greater impact on people's lives."

"It is very apparent that we're dysfunctional," Burchell said of the dispute between the convention and the commission, in which he has sometimes played a leading role. At the same time, he noted that "there are some grave decisions to be made." In particular, he acknowledged that conditions at the county jail must be addressed.

Openly critical of the recommendations of Ricci Greene Associates, the consultants engaged by the commission, he insisted that "there are several viable alternatives" and claimed that "spending $12 million or less will fill the bill." He added that he has read widely about corrections policy and facilities and considers himself well-versed in the issues.

Burchell suggested that "leadership and candor" in lacking among the current commissioners. "If the only choice is cave and cower or stand up," he said "I'm going to stand up."

Thomas, a veteran lawmaker who served seven terms in the House, several of them in leadership, was elected to a three-year term on the county commission in 2011. "Unless something drastic happens," he said Friday, "I'm running." Thomas, who succeeded Democrat Ed Philpot as chairman of the convention last year, has neither disguised his differences with the Republican majority of the convention not shrunk from confrontation with its chairperson, Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith).