LACONIA — The two Belknap County Commissioners who voted last week to hire Attorney Paul Fitzgerald of the Wescott Law office as legal counsel for the commission defended their actions last night at a meeting of the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee.
Both Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton), commission vice chairman, said that the choice of Fitzgerald, a former Laconia mayor with a long history of serving as legal counsel for the city of Franklin, was in the best interest of the taxpayers of the county.
''He is familiar with the issues and is experienced and knowledgeable,'' said DeVoy.
But Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who voted against Fitzgerald and said that he had wanted to look at attorneys from out of town, said that Fitzgerald ''was wrong ethically in what he did'' in preparing an employment contract requested by the previous Belknap County Commissioners for County Administrator Debra Shackett. He claimed that Fitzgerald had given the contract to Shackett for her approval before it went before the commissioners.
Commissioner Taylor said that he had never blamed Fitzgerald for the contract, which he said was what the previous commissioners had asked him to do. ''It's not an illegal contract. He's highly competent and experienced and I don't want to go out of town for an attorney,'' said Taylor, who is himself an attorney.
The issue came up at the conclusion of a meeting of the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee which had been called to deal with budget transfer requests from the commissioners. It was initiated by Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford), who said that he was not pleased with the hiring of Fitzgerald, citing his role in drafting the employment contract and the fact that he had represented DeVoy in a lawsuit which had been brought against DeVoy and fellow commissioner Taylor in Belknap County Superior Court by commissioner Burchell. He said that he thought it was bad public policy.
Burchell's lawsuit sought to overturn the action of his fellow commissioners in ousting him as chairman of the commission in early March. Burchell's request to remain as chairman was denied and DeVoy remained as the new chairman.
DeVoy said that it was not his point to have to go to court to defend his action in ousting Burchell as chairman and that it had been brought about by Burchell's own action in refusing to acknowledge the right of the majority of the commission to change chairmen.
When Hurt said that he still thought that the choice of Fitzgerald was wrong, DeVoy said that he thinks Fitzgerald is right for the county and that the current commissioners are ''leading from the front'' by asserting their authority and not handing it over to appointed administrators.
Burchell said that the Fitzgerald nomination was handled so quickly that he never had a chance to bring up other candidates. He has been at odds with his fellow commissioners since shortly after Taylor was appointed in early January and has been a consistent critic of Shackett, having written in a e-mail to county legislators that she and former Finance Director Glen Waring were to blame for many of the county's problems.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Belknap County Convention, said that the entire conversation was off base. "The commissioners do not report to us. This is not our business. We should not be discussing this,'' said Tilton.
He said that he personally thinks the choice of Fitzgerald is a good one and said that ''he's not responsible for the sins of his clients. I've heard nothing but good about him.''
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