LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners will ask Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen to intervene on their behalf in a court case which limits their authority to transfer funds without the approval of the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee.
The action came Wednesday afternoon following on the heels of Monday night's rejection by the committee of a $28,000 transfer request which would have allowed the county to pay $24,000 it has in unpaid legal bills.
Commissioners said the result of the committee's action is that the commission can no longer manage the business of the county, which violates the terms of a temporary injunction obtained by the county convention prohibiting the transfer of more than $300 between accounts without approval of the committee.
''The judge's ruling said that the committee would in good faith approve the transfers. But this transfer was denied because they don't like what the commission is doing,'' said county Administrator Debra Shackett.
Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who did not seek re-election and will be stepping down on January 2, said, ''They are essentially through their actions denying the commissioners the ability to conduct the business of the county, which is within our statutory authority. We're still here and still charged with managing the county and we have to do that in a way which meets the responsibilities we have.''
He said that the commissioners have incurred legitimate expenses in several legal matters, which include defending the commission in the lawsuit brought by the convention as well as seeking to overturn the county Personnel Committee's reinstatement of Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue after he had been fired by the commissioners in late August.
Shackett said that ever since Monday night's decision she has not spoken to the attorneys hired by the commission for fear of incurring further legal fees.
"How can we petition the court without a lawyer?'' she asked and commissioners agreed that the only alternative remaining to the commission is to be represented by the county attorney in its appeal to the court.
Philpot pointed out that the firms which have billed the county for their services are not going to just walk away and will press to have the bills paid, which prompted Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) to say that ultimately the county will have to pay it's legal bills.
Among those who voted to deny the request for the transfer of funds was Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who defeated incumbent commissioner John Thomas (R-Belmont) in the Republican primary in September .
At Monday night's Executive Committee meeting, Rep. Burchell told the commissioners ''you continue to throw away money on a issue that will go away on January 2'', referring to a statement that he and fellow incoming commissioner Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) issued recently saying that they plan to drop an appeal commissioners are planning to make to the state Supreme Court of the Personnel Committee's reinstatement of Logue as head of the nursing home.
At that meeting Nedeau said that Burchell may not be able to cast a vote on that issue, maintaining that there may be a conflict of interest as Burchell serves as a member of the Personnel Committee and voted to reinstate Logue. Burchell maintains that he has no conflict of interest, citing state law, and that he intends to vote to drop the appeal.
During yesterday afternoon's meeting, Nedeau told Philpot, who was not at Monday night's meeting, that ''it was amazing to sit there and listen to our next commissioner basically swear at me.''
Philpot observed about Burchell, ''that's happened more than once. That's despicable, thuggish behavior. He's been on the delegation for two years now and has never said a word to me.''
Philpot said it was obvious that Burchell and other members of the county convention were intent ''on the disassembly of everything we (the current commissioners and administration) have worked so very hard for.''
Commissioner Thomas said that there are ''many people filled with hate and discontent. And we have nine of them right here in our county delegation.''
Shackett observed yesterday that during the Monday night meeting she had been accused of lying for the second time in two weeks by outgoing Belknap County Convention chairperson Colette Worsman (R-Meredith).
Worsman charged at Monday's meeting of the county's Executive Committee that Belknap County Commissioners spent $174,000 more than the $2.6 million which was appropriated by convention for health insurance costs for 2014.
''That's not true. We didn't spend any more money than was appropriated,'' Shackett replied.
Worsman said she based her calculations on the monthly bills paid by then county of about $230,000, which dropped to $73,800 during one month in which the county's bill was reduced by a $159,000 credit.
Worsman said that the credit should have gone to the county as revenue and maintained that the commissioners did not have the authority to spend the money without convention approval, a position which was supported by Rep. Burchell and Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), who said the money should have been returned to the taxpayers.
Shackett said that she had followed the advice of the county's auditing firm on how to handle the credit as well as that of the Local Government Center. County Finance Director Glen Waring observed that Worsman's numbers were faulty, as the monthly payments also reflected the employee share of health insurance costs.
Worsman persisted however, saying ''you're not being truthful'' to Shackett and later saying ''the $174,000 spent is a violation and individuals should be held accountable.''
Rep, Davis Huot (D-Laconia) defended Shackett, saying ''it's not fair to accuse people of not telling the truth.''
Rep, Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee, sought to rein in the discussion, saying ''the committee is beyond the purview of what we need to do'' and after allowing a few more comments said ''let's put this one to rest.''
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