LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who was censured by his fellow commissioners at a meeting in early June for allegedly leaking information from a non-public session in February to a county employee, has defended his actions in a second incident of alleged leaks of information, which led to the commission majority to call for a legal investigation.
In a letter published in Saturday's edition of The Daily Sun, Burchell maintained that the second incident involved a non-public session at which complaints by a county employee that he/she felt threatened by the remarks of a private citizen of the county were discussed.
He maintained that the meeting, which in addition to commissioners also involved Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin and Belknap County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen, was an improper use of the law permitting non-public sessions.
Burchell says that after he asked the county attorney if the citizen in question had committed a chargeable offense and she answered "no", that he then said that the board ''had nothing before it''. He said he also defended the free speech rights of the individual.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) have said that Wiggin later received a phone call from the person who was the subject of the second meeting and they concluded that Burchell had informed the man that his comments had been the subject of the closed-door meeting of the commission.
Burchell said that he wrote the letter to the newspaper after waiting in vain for some time for either the Belknap County Attorney's office or the N.H. Attorney General's Office to contact him as part of an investigation and decided that it was time for him to publicly answer the charges.
Burchell declined to say whether he had provided the subject of the second meeting with information but did say that his fellow commissioners ''know bloody well who told him.''
DeVoy defended the non-public meeting as being permitted by state law.
DeVoy said that his recollection of the second meeting differs sharply with Burchell's and maintains that the objections Burchell claims to have made at the closed-door proceedings are not accurate.
''He never said that during the meeting,'' said DeVoy, who says that he's embarrassed by ''all the drama happening in the county.''
He said that as far as he's concerned when it comes to non-public sessions ''there should be enough trust and respect so that's what said during the meeting stays in the room. These leaks are designed to produce drama, which hurts the county."
DeVoy also takes issue with Burchell's account of the February meeting which is discussed in his letter.
The meeting took place while Burchell was still chairman of the commission.
Burchell wrote that he left the meeting which was called to discuss a grievance filed by a county department head after he determined that the other commissioners had reached a conclusion with which he did not agree. He claimed to have filed a minority report with the county employee and told him that he would submit it in writing and did so the next day both with the county administrative assistant and the employee.
DeVoy said at no time during the February meeting did Burchell ever say that he was going to write a report and that when he spoke with the department head immediately after the meeting that Burchell had already relayed the commission's decision to that person.
'You left the meeting and went right to the employee, where sensitive information was leaked out,'' DeVoy said to Burchell at the June 18 meeting of the commissioners.
DeVoy said that it was Burchell's behavior at the February meeting that marked ''the beginning of the end for him as chairman".'
Burchell was replaced as chairman of the commission at a March 2 meeting at which he presided and tried to block motions made by DeVoy and Taylor by repeatedly rapping the gavel and declaring that they were out of order.
He filed a lawsuit in Belknap County Superior Court in an attempt to overturn his ouster but that move was denied by Judge James O'Neill III.
Burchell said in his letter that that he disagrees with the decision in the case, calling it ''an egregious example of judicial activism''.
DeVoy said Burchell's comment on the ruling shows how difficult it is for his fellow commissioners to deal with a person who won't accept a view that differs from his own.
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