GILFORD — From the start of the Gunstock Area Commission’s January 19 meeting, undercurrents of the political dispute between the commission and the Belknap County Delegation colored the discussion, although, for the most part, the exchanges remained civil.
Gary Kiedaisch assumed chairmanship of the meeting in the wake of Brian Gallagher’s resignation a week earlier, dismissing concerns from fellow commissioners Peter Ness and Jade Wood that it was a violation of the commission’s bylaws. According to the bylaws, in the absence of the chair, the vice-chair was to assume those duties.
“If you would like to act as the vice-chair, if you want a title, and we call you vice-chair pro tem, that’s appropriate,” Ness said. “You cannot unilaterally assume the role of chair.”
When Wood quoted the bylaws to back up that position, Kiedaisch said, “Let me stop right there. I’d like to get on with the business of the commission, rather than us constantly having these attacks. Whether I’m chairman or vice-chairman, I’m authorized to run this meeting.”
Kiedaisch had served as chair until Gallagher’s election to the post. Gallagher resigned on January 12, citing the political controversy over the future direction of the Gunstock Mountain Resort.
Tension between the Belknap County Delegation and the Gunstock Area Commission is not new, originally centered around loan payments that county residents made while Gunstock was having financial problems. The most recent disputes began when the commission asked the delegation to remove Ness, citing allegations of a conflict of interest and rude and abusive treatment of some Gunstock employees. Ness denied those charges, and the delegation instead declared its intention to remove commissioners Gallagher, Kiedaisch, and Rusty McLear from the commission.
Gunstock Mountain Resort is owned by the county, and the delegation is responsible for the appointment and removal of Gunstock Area Commission members.
The commission’s bid for summary judgment from Belknap County Superior Court to halt that proceedings against the three commissioners was denied when the delegation canceled the removal hearing. Now the delegation has scheduled a meeting on January 31 to consider Kiedaisch’s removal from the commission.
Delegation members also introduced House Bill 1078, which would require the Gunstock Area Commission to submit a budget proposal to the county convention [delegation] 90 days prior to the start of the next fiscal year, and it would restrict all expenditures to those approved by the county convention. The commission voted to oppose the bill.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Kiedaisch acknowledged the receipt of a Laconia City Council resolution recommending “a supportive and cooperative relationship between the Gunstock Area Commission and the Belknap County Delegation” as well as “[a]n appropriate investment in infrastructure and maintenance to keep Gunstock Mountain Resort a destination location.” Belmont selectmen had submitted a similar letter.
Kiedaisch also read into the record letters to The Laconia Daily Sun from Rep. Gregg Hough (R-Laconia) and Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor, expressing their support for Gallagher and the commissioners in charge of operating the county-owned recreation area. Kiedaisch omitted a portion of Taylor’s letter that attacked those opposing Gallagher.
After reading those letters, Kiedaisch addressed the chair of the Belknap County Delegation: “And Mike Sylvia, Sen. Bob Giuda has been soliciting your attendance at a meeting to sit at a table and resolve the issues. Brian Gallagher and I have done it for months without success. I invite you today to move forward, not backwards and sideways. We’ve spent too much time debating over nonsensical and made-up harassments. To have broken the back of a commissioner — and Jade, you were part of that ….”
Wood broke in at that point, saying, “This is not on the agenda, and you would do well not to insult me.”
Kiedaisch turned back to Sylvia: “Chair Sylvia, I invite you to accept Sen. Giuda’s invitation for us to sit and arbitrate away these issues, to not have to be doing it through the courts. And I invite you to do it in an open forum where the public can have input, and employees can have input, not like you’ve done in the past.”
Sylvia responded, “Rep. [Norm] Silber accepted the offer of Commissioner Peter Spanos to have a private meeting with yourself and Brian Gallagher. You and Brian Gallagher — one or the other, I don’t know exactly know which — betrayed that private meeting and entered that information into public record in the Daily Sun and court records. You are not someone who is trustworthy, and that’s where we stand on this.”
He added, “I did not hear a motion to accept all this commentary into the record of Gunstock.”
Raymond Howard Jr., vice-chair of the Belknap County Delegation, spoke up to say, “Id like to put something in the permanent record myself. These are two men’s opinions [Hough and Taylor] who, to the best of my knowledge in the last seven years that I’ve been dealing with these issues, don’t know what they’re talking about. And I’d also like to say that, if it wasn’t for the diligence of the delegation, Gunstock would probably still be the way it was 20 years ago.”
Kiedaisch turned to the subject of his pending removal hearing, saying that, because the last such hearing did not allow a defense, he wanted to take the time to answer the charges against him. Point by point, he refuted charges that he failed to follow proper procedures under the state’s right-to-know law, established an ethics policy that was outside the purview of the commission, hired an attorney using public funds to interfere with the role of the county delegation, implemented a capital expenditure plan without a public hearing, and refused to provide Ness with information he requested.
His attempt to make that defense part of Gunstock’s permanent record, failed on a 2-2 vote of the commission, with Ness and Wood voting to block the action.