LACONIA — One of the most closely watched races in Belknap County on Tuesday will be the contest between Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Dave Pollak (D-Laconia) for the District One (Laconia, Sanbornton, New Hampton) seat on the Belknap County Commission currently held by Ed Philpot (D-Laconia.)
The winner of the race will determine the balance of power on the three-member commission, which sets policy for the county, and which will have only one incumbent member, Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), who has been closely aligned with Philpot on most issues, including building a new county jail and fully funding the county's share of employee health insurance plans.
Nedeau wil almost certainlyl be joined on the commission by Rep. Dick Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who defeated commission chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont), who was also aligned with Philpot, in the Republican primary and faces no opposition in the general election.
Burchell has been a vocal critic of policies proposed by the current commission and a champion of the county convention's side in a nearly two-year long battle over line item authority in the budget. The convention recently won a preliminary court injunction which prohibits the commission from making budget transfers greater than $300 without the approval of the convention's executive committee.
DeVoy, who calls himself a limited government fiscal conservative, is making his second run for the commission, having lost in 2012 to Philpot by 701 votes, 5,320 to 4,619. DeVoy carried Sanbornton and New Hampton as well as Ward 1 in Laconia, but could not overcome Philpot's margins in the other five wards.
A retired colonel in the United States Army Reserve, where he served for 30 years, DeVoy owns and operates three convenience stores — the Mobil Mart in Gilford and the Bosco Bell Store and Blueberry Station in Barnstead. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and earned his Master of Science degree at the United States Army War College and Master of Business Administration at Plymouth State University. He is married and has two children.
He says that if elected he will ''follow the rule of law'' and work with the Belknap County Convention by developing strong personal relationships of mutual trust and respect with its members. He said that he supports hiring a professional negotiator for the county to handle contract negotiations with the four unions representing county employees, something which Burchell has proposed, and supports fully funding employee health care premiums as provided in their contracts.
DeVoy has been critical of the current commission, having charged at one point that commissioners were deliberately neglecting the county jail in order to foist an expensive new jail on the county. He also said that a recent notice sent to workers informing them that they might be liable for the county's share of their individual health insurance premiums for the remainder of the year unless the county convention approved budget transfers was the wrong thing to do. "It was totally unnecessary to frighten county employees,'' he says.
DeVoy was highly praised by Burchell in a letter which appeared in Thursday's Laconia Daily Sun and is seen as a potential Burchell ally on the commission.
He has offered his own plan for fixing problems at the county jail and says that as far as he is concerned it can be done without constructing an expensive new jail. A $2 million plan he introduced months ago calls for replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, expanding the bracelet program and establishing a treatment center and a women's wing in what is now the administrative wing of the Belknap County Complex and moving the commissioner's offices to the Belknap County Courthouse.
More recently, he set a limit of $7 million on what he says should be spent on the jail, acknowledging that his plan doesn't yet have wide support and that he might have to compromise in order to reach a consensus which would allow a jail improvement program to move forward.
Dave Pollak, a professor at Lakes Region Community College for the last 10 years, is making his first run for public office. A graduate of George Washington University with a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master's degree in education from Antioch University New England, he is a member of the liberal arts faculty and teaches a variety of courses in the social sciences, including psychology, government and ethics. He is married with four children.
Before moving to New Hampshire, he practiced law for five years and spent about a decade before that in the construction industry as a project manager rehabbing apartment complexes in New York City.
Pollak said that he has followed the often contentious course of county government during the past several years closely and would seek "to dial down the rhetoric and find consensus." Noting that the future of the county jail is the overriding issue facing both the commission and the Belknap County Convention, he said, "I am coming to that with an open mind." He says that he has taught classes at the jail and is familiar with conditions at the facility.
"I am not an expert," Pollak said, "but I am a good listener and a good learner." He said that he "admires people with strongly held principles" and finds "if you start from a place of respect, you get to a good outcome."
He says ''I'm not in favor of spending $42 million dollars for a new jail. I am in favor of a deliberative process to find the right solution which will meet federal and state standards, will satisfy our safety and correctional needs, will work to reduce recidivism, and that has the smallest possible effect on the county tax rate.''
He has visited several county jails in the state which were recently built or had additions and says that he sees value engineering of current plans as a way of reducing projected costs to $20 million or less.
Pollak has been critical of the actions of the county convention and it's executive committee, maintaining that the convention has pursued a deliberate strategy of trying to force the commission to breach contracts with county workers by refusing to fund increases required to pay the county's share of health insurance costs.
''At the same time the convention wants the workers to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance costs, they denied them that 1.5 percent wage increase which would have been the first raise in many years. It may only be a coincidence but the full time jobs at the nursing home are very very hard to fill with positions remaining open for months,'' Pollak recently wrote in a letter published in The Daily Sun.
He said that what is being overlooked is that the convention's efforts to reduce county health insurance costs is actually a pay cut for county workers, especially those with the most experience who are at the top of the wage scale and won't get pay increases that match the increases in their health insurance premiums.
Pollak says that he would like better relations between the commissioners and the convention and that one of the first things he would do if elected is to invite legislators to attend a retreat ''where we can sit down and talk to each other.''
He would also like to see the county involved in strategic planning which would help all communities work together to achieve efficiencies through sharing resources. He says that reviving the former welfare office position at the county level is something which should be explored more fully.
''We're in a unique position at the county level to look at ways to take advantage of economies of scale,'' says Pollak, adding that former Laconia Mayor Mike Seymour has agreed to work with him on that effort.