LACONIA — Belknap County's new commissioners, attempting to assert what they see as their major responsibilities as managers of county government, are looking for ways to reconcile their part-time status with the everyday needs of county department heads to make decisions on a daily basis.
When new commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) held their first meeting in early January they made a point of saying they didn't want to delegate their authority and wanted to deal directly with department heads. They said department heads would report directly to them rather than through the Belknap County administrator, signifying a major break with the policies followed by the previous commissioners, who had worked to streamline county government by consolidating authority over policy and day-to-day operations of the various county departments within the administration department.
The shift in county policies was discussed by commissioners, who in recent weeks have been joined by newly appointed commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton), when they met Friday at the Belknap County complex and looked for ways to increase departmental autonomy and develop a policy which would differentiate between actions which would require their approval and those which would require only reporting to them of actions already taken.
DeVoy said that while each of the county departments are unique, he would like to develop a uniform policy. But he wanted to make sure commissioners didn't surrender any of their powers. ''There are certain responsibilities which we can't give away and I don't want to see us give them away.''
Taylor said that he would like to see the county Administrator Debra Shackett look at what policies are and have the commissioners reach a consensus on appropriate autonomy for each department.
Commission Chairman Burchell said that is was important not to micro-manage and suggested e-mails as a way to maintain lines of communication.
Taylor said that it was important for the commissioners to be sensitive to the state's open meetings law, better known as Right-to-Know, and pointed out that private discussions between two of the members of the three-person board on policy violates the open meetings law.
He said that each member of the board should separately do a draft of the proposed policy and that ''come in and talk about them'' and hold an all-day meeting with department heads and elected officials in order to develop a policy.
Burchell said that he didn't see conversations between commissioners as a violation of RSA 91-A, the Right-to-Know law. ''We'll never be be to decide in advance on every single issue which could come up,'' he said.
County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen noted that under state statutes there are requirements for her office, including reporting to the county administrator, any litigation against the county.
She said she saw the attempt to develop a policy ''a worthwhile discussion'', adding ''the administration over the years has done a good job of bringing us all together'' and that the departments have developed good working relationships.
Commissioners also dealt with a number of other items.
Burchell said that a bid was being prepared for the county's health insurance program by a firm which is sensitive to the substantial refund coming to the county from its current insurance provider, which the county would forfeit if it switches firms.
Taylor and DeVoy noted that union negotiators representing county employees had objected to having a citizen representative, Roger Grey of Sanbornton, on the county's bargaining team.
Taylor said that the union had cited a state Public Employee Labor Relations Board regulation that those representing an employer in the negotiations must be affiliated with the employer.
Both DeVoy and Burchell said they wanted to continue with Grey on the bargaining team and Taylor said the commissioners would have to create some kind of status for Grey that would enable him to be affiliated with the county for the purpose of collective bargaining.
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