LACONIA — Heeding the soothsayer's warning to "beware the Ides of March," Richard Burchell took steps yesterday to thwart the intent of his fellow Belknap County commissioners — Hunter Taylor and Dave DeVoy — to oust him from the chairman's post in favor of DeVoy when the commission meets Monday morning.
After bickering throughout the morning, Burchell informed his colleagues by e-mail that "I will use the Sheriff's Office to clear the room if what you have contemplated is attempted."
In a letter sent to The Laconia Daily Sun yesterday, Taylor revealed that he would offer a motion to "reorganize" the commission and, if it carries, would nominate DeVoy to replace Burchell as chairman.
Taylor referred to the rift among the commissioners over the 2015 county budget and, noting that Burchell absented himself from the process and has criticized the position of the majority, wrote that "the commissioner who had been selected to chair the commission refused to be part of the team in addressing its first important responsibility." Moreover, he doubted that Burchell has "the temperament to lead the team through the differences of opinion that inevitably arise."
(Taylor's letter is published on page 6.)
When Burchell got wind of what was up he instructed county Administrative Assistant Angela Bovill to prepare an agenda, which made no mention of reorganizing the commission. He closed by asking her to "please see that there is a uniformed representative of the Sheriff's office at this meeting" and declared, "there will not be any additions to this agenda per order of the chair."
Shortly afterwards Taylor and DeVoy countermanded Burchell's instructions and directed Bovill to post an agenda on the county website, on which the first item of new business is "reorganization of the Belknap County Board of Commissioners".
Burchell said that he consulted with Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlon in Concord who informed him that "they have no statutory basis for doing this." Then he advised Taylor and DeVoy, "Please understand that the agenda will not be so loosely drawn as to allow for a reorganization of county officers. There is no statutory basis nor is there a basis in tradition," he continued, "for changing officers because you do not agree with a specific policy which may be advocated by an officer."
Taylor said he also spoke with Scanlon, who told him that he referred Burchell to the state statute reading, (RSA 28:1-b) "All rights, authority and powers of the county commissioners shall be exercised only by vote of a majority of the county commissioners." Dismissing Burchell's rendering of the law, Taylor remarked "how he got from there to where he is, I don't know."
Speaking to dissension among the commissioners, Taylor said that "temperament is a vital part of being a chairman and Mr. Burchell has not evidenced the sort of temperament one should bring to the chairmanship." He offered his refusal to participate with his fellow commissioners and county officials in a daylong meeting to address the budget as one example. Likewise, Taylor said when DeVoy explained that family issues have placed demands on his time and asked his colleagues to make allowances in scheduling meetings, Burchell was reluctant to accommodate him.
Finally, Taylor recalled a meeting at which he and Burchell had a difference of opinion. He said that Burchell got up and started for the door, then, when asked, returned, but said, "move it on. You've got five minutes." Taylor said that he told Burchell "'you can't tell me how long I have to speak.'" He said Burchell replied, "I don't have to listen to you," to which Taylor responded "you sure don't". At that point, Taylor said, Burchell told DeVoy, "you're leading this county down the road to disaster," called him "Colonel Puffer", and left the room.
Taylor said he could find nothing that afforded special prerogatives to the chairman. "He is one of a team of three and should behave as a member of a team," he said.
Taylor said that apart from differences over the budget, Burchell is bent on imposing what he calls a "business model" of administration on the county by eliminating the positions of county administrator and finance director and requiring department heads to report directly to the commissioners. Noting that neighboring Carroll County has operated without a county administrator, Taylor said that he met with members of that commission, who told him that a recent study of their county found that its administration was "inefficient". As a result the Carroll County commissioners have included $105,000 in this year's budget to hire an administrator with a financial background. Yet Burchell, he said, has remained insistent.
"I've been fairly consistent," Burchell told The Daily Sun. "I'm just going to advocate what I believe in."
He repeated that there is "no statute, no precedent" for removing the chairman of the county commission, but added "if a judge so rules, I'll gladly step down."
Burchell remarked that a professor once told him "if you keep your sanity through the Ides of March, you're good for another year."
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