LACONIA — Belknap County Commission Chairman Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) was ousted as chairman by fellow commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) Monday morning but he refused to acknowledge their action, maintaining that that they had no statutory authority to remove him. Burchell continued to wield the gavel at the short, chaotic commissioners' meeting at the Belknap County complex, repeatedly banging it on the table and yelling after every motion made by the other commissioners that they were out of order.
The bizarre meeting — or simultaneous meetings — degenerated into a shouting match as DeVoy and Taylor raised their voices in order to make themselves heard over Burchell's "out of order" rulings, which flew thick and fast. When the other commissioners signaled their decision to continue to press the issue of removing Burchell as chairman, he asked Belknap County Deputy Sheriff Dave Perkins to empty the room, but Perkins declined, saying there was no basis to do so.
Talking over Burchell, the two commissioners then elected DeVoy as chairman, Taylor as vice chairman and, Burchell as clerk, prompting him to say, ''you're both out of order. You have no authority to elect me as clerk.''
Burchell would not accept motions even when the other commissioners appealed his "out of order" rulings, maintaining that the "simplified" Roberts Rules of Order, which the commission adopted at its first meeting of the year, didn't allow that procedure. He cited an e-mail from Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan which Burchell claimed said there was no procedure for removing him as chairman of the commission. Taylor cited another opinion from Scanlan which said that all decisions by the commission are made only by majority vote.
Later in the day Burchell filed a motion in Belknap County Superior Court seeking ex parte relief from the action of the other two commissioners, claiming that there is no statutory basis for his removal as chairman, which he maintains will be ''an invitation to chaos".
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for March 11 at 1:30 p.m.
He said following the meeting that he intends to continue as chairman ''until a court says I'm not".
At one point during the Monday morning meeting, when Burchell ruled Taylor out of order, the mild-mannered commissioner appealed to the audience, saying, ''you can see exactly why we need to reorganize.'' After being told later on by Burchell that he was out of order again, Taylor said to Burchell ''you're out of your mind".'
After it became obvious that Burchell would not yield the gavel, the other commissioners voted, again over Burchell's insistence that they were "out of order", to end the meeting without taking action on any other agenda items. Burchell said that they should ''remove themselves from the room'' and Taylor said to Burchell ''you'd do us all a favor if you resign (from the commission)".
DeVoy said after the meeting that ''this was a sad day for Belknap County. We didn't elect a king, we elected a chairman. And we've got to right the ship and get Belknap County moving again.''
DeVoy said that it has become obvious that Burchell is someone who can't handle the working relationships needed to lead the commission and that when the next meeting of the commissioners is held he intends to pick up the gavel and preside as the new chairman.
Taylor said after the meeting that he can't understand why Burchell still wants to hold on to the chairmanship. ''I hope he takes some time and does some reflection. We need to put the county first and he's not being a part of a team. Instead of working with us he went off and did his own budget. It's pretty obvious to everyone other than himself that he's not the right person to lead the county commission.''
After the commissioners left, Burchell sat alone at the front of the room and briefed the media on a visit made to the Belknap County Jail last Friday by consultants Kevin Warwick and Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates, who are designing a program for a proposed Belknap County Community Corrections Center.
He said that preliminary indications are that it would actually be less expensive for the county in the long run if it built a larger jail rather than a community corrections center because the cost of adding 7-10 additional staff for the corrections center would be higher over time than the additional construction costs of a jail expansion, which wouldn't require a major increase in staffing.
Burchell began feuding with his two colleagues — all new to the commission and all Republicans — in recent weeks, when they would not sign on to his plan for eliminating jobs in order to meet a target for a reduction in the proposed 2015 county budget. The chairman boycotted a day-long budget workshop the commissioners held on February 13 because he believed they were going the call for an increase in expected county nursing home revenue in order to reach a similar numerical goal.
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