Contract for town administrator draws argument, then approval, in Gilmanton

GILMANTON — Following public discussion and contentious debate, the divided Board of Selectmen this week voted two-to-one to grant Town Administrator Paul Branscombe a four-year contract starting at a salary of $55,000 in 2016 and including three annual increases of $5,000 through 2019.

Don Guarino, who chairs the board, was the lone dissenter while Michael Jean and Rachel Hatch both voted in favor of extending Branscombe a multi-year contract.

Before the selectmen turned to the issue, which they tabled two weeks ago, Ralph Lavin presented them with a petition urging them to defer any decision until after the elections in March, at which the composition of the selectboard could change. Lavin questioned whether Branscombe could be sufficiently evaluated to warrant a multi-year contract after only six weeks on the job.

However, most agreed with Terry Donovan who said that with Branscombe's arrival "for the first time in years I believe we have really turned a corner to professional town government in Gilmanton."

Mark Sisti, the town moderator, described the petition as "a mystery" and doubted those who signed it understood the substance of the issue it purported to address. He said that Branscombe "has turned the ship around" and had an "enormous" impact in the community.

"The last few weeks," said Fire Chief Paul Hempel, "have been wonderful. It's not baloney. It's a fact." He noted that Branscombe was "building a team and we're moving forward with efficiency."

"It's about time Gilmanton came out of the stone age," declared one man who urged the selectboard "don't go back, go forward" then, pointing to the former town administrator Arthur Capello, said "we have a choice."

"Give the professional team some breathing room without the politics," implored another. "My fear is that we just might lose this gentleman."

"Put him in," a woman cried, prompting a round of applause. "The ones who want to wait for the election want to turn back the clock."

Reminding the selectmen of the petition, Lavin again asked them not to enter a multi-year contract until after the election. Rachel Hatch, who was appointed to the board to complete the term of Steve McCormack, which expires in March, took his remarks as directed at her. Rising from her seat, she said "I'm not going just sit here and keep a seat warm. I'm going to take action when it needs to be taken."

Branscombe explained that he requested a multi-year contract because when he was hired the contract he was offered had not been reviewed by the town's legal counsel and there were insufficient funds in the budget to pay his salry for the remainder of the year. He said that despite the responsibilities of the town administrator, in 2019, the fourth year of the requested contract, he would earn $70,000, less than a department head earns in 2015.

"You're totally out of line," Guarino countered, insisting that funds were available to fund Branscombe's salary. Branscombe replied that because the funds were not appropriated in the line for the town administrator's salary he considered the contract he was offered "null and void" and said "that is why I asked for a multi-year contract."

Guarino proposed the selectboard enter a non-pubic session on the grounds that further discussion could impugn someone's reputation. "That's me," Branscombe remarked, insisting the discussion continue in public.

Turning to Branscombe, Guarino recalled that at a prior meeting Branscombe disclosed a series of financial miscues that occurred before his arrival then charged "you do whatever it takes to give yourself a gold star and you don't care who you step on." Guarino also took exceptions to remarks Branscombe made to the press, which he called "derogatory."

"Can we get to the agenda,?" Hatch asked while Jean said "there were errors. Everybody made them. We're moving forward."

Guarino reminded his colleagues that the town has never entered a multi-year contract with its administrator and warned against making a long-term commitment without the Budget Committee.

Raising her voice, Hatch said that "maybe that's why we're in so much trouble in this town." When Guarino pleaded "don't yell" she snapped "I do need to yell. You are seriously wrong on this." She went on to say that she had discussed the issue with the chairman of the Budget Committee, Brian Forst, who told her "go for it."

Jean moved the question. The vote was taken. Someone shouted "good job" and people applauded.

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Gilford needs to be replace old stone culvert under Potter Hill Rd.

GILFORD — Selectmen agreed last night by consensus to replace a failing culvert under Potter Hill Road before it collapses entirely.

Public Works Director Peter Nourse said that during a rain storm on August 24, sink holes developed around the culvert area. Town employees placed cones over the sinkholes and Nourse had the road posted to a 3-ton maximum.

Nourse said further examination showed that the culvert is constructed of very large stones and nearly all of the chinking that was between the stones has eroded. He said the culvert allows water from an unnamed stream from Mount Rowe to pass to Gunstock Brook.

He said his plans are to use about $100,000 from a balance in the Highway Department paving line to install a precast concrete culvert with a closed bottom that will have similar water capacity.

Selectmen discussed two options for paying for the repair they all agree is necessary. The first was re-purposing the money from the paving surplus or taking funds from the capital reserve fund set aside for bridges.

Nourse said the state department of transportation defines a bridge as a span of 10-feet by 10-feet or greater and that the Potter Hill Road culvert is 4-feet by 4-feet and it doesn't qualify as a bridge.

He noted that the $400,000 in the bridge capital reserve fund will be needed for a red-listed bridge repair on Old Lake Shore Road that will be getting some state matching funds in a few years.

Nourse said he is working with the state Department of Environmental Resources for a plan that will be as minimally invasive as possible. He added that the Division of Historical Resources said there was nothing of historical value in the area around the culvert.

After discussion the options, selectmen decided to take the money from the paving fund rather than the bridge capital account.

In other business, selectmen voted to take a $41,360 fee for design engineering from the construction budget of the new police station and pay for it from the administrative contracted services line. Town Administrator Scott Dunn said engineering services were never supposed to come from the construction budget.

Selectmen also voted to accept a change order of $5,782 to pay for wiring in the police station fire alarm and fire hydrant systems. Dunn noted that when the engineers designed the plan, those rules were not mandated by the state but now they are.

With the most recent changes and the removal of the design engineering fees, Dunn said there is $451 left unencumbered in the construction budget.

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Sen. Forrester confirms national group has asked her to run for governor

LACONIA — State Senator Jeanie Forrester, a Republican from Meredith who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, yesterday confirmed that some time ago she was asked to consider running for governor by representatives of the Republican Governors Association, but quickly added "right now I am focused on the state budget and not thinking about campaigning for governor."

WMUR-TV reported Forrester's possible candidacy yesterday, the day after Chris Sununu of Newfields, the son of former governor John H. Sununu who is serving his second term as an executive councilor, became the first Republican to announce his candidacy for governor. Forrester served on the staff of Governor Sununu in the 1980s.

"I have been asked," Forrester repeated, explaining that "it was during a conversation that took places months ago. Of course, I'm flattered to have been asked," she continued, "especially by the Republican Governors Association, But, with the budget situation we are facing, it is truly a distraction."

"I'm not going to say no," Forrester said, "but, I'm not going to say yes. I'm just not going to think about it. It's too early in the process." She said that she will make her decision once the stalemate arising from Governor Maggie Hassan's veto of the 2016-2017 state budget is resolved.

Two of Forrester's Senate colleagues, Chuck Morse of Salem, the president of the Senate, and Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, the Senate majority leader, are often mentioned as possible Republican candidates for governor. Representative Frank Edelblut of Wilton, the chief executive officer of Control Solutions International, a risk management consultancy who is serving his first term in the House of Representatives, is also weighing a bid for the Republican nomination for governor.

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