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Former state employees' union president calls out current president over liquor store sting operation

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 19. 2018 10:55PM
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky (with hat) and Richard Gulla, president of the N.H. State Employees Association, are seen on Feb. 3, 2018, in surveillance footage strolling the stockroom of a Keene liquor store. 

CONCORD — The former president of the state employees’ union is urging the SEA Board of Directors to take action against incumbent union president Richard Gulla for his role in a sting operation designed to bring attention to high-volume sales at state liquor stores.

Diana Lacey, now a union member who works for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a lengthy email dated June 15 that Gulla, an NHLC employoee, should recuse himself from any NHLC matters due to a personal conflict of interest.

She states that the NHLC tried on two occasions to fire Gulla long before the current controversy arose, but reached agreements with the union in both cases.

“I don’t think any person on Earth could be impartial about an organization that tried twice to fire them, and I do not think President Gulla can be either,” she wrote in the email to Gulla and the union board the day after a June 14 meeting of the union council.

Gulla defeated Lacey, 85-81, in a 2014 election to become SEA president, and he was later re-elected. “I make this recommendation out of a love for the union,” Lacey wrote. “And if you think it’s out of sour grapes, then surely you must consider that possibility for a member twice facing termination.”

Lacey urges the SEA board to assign all NHLC matters to first vice president Ken Roos. She also urged them to assign Lead Organizer John Thyng as the primary SEA liaison with liquor commission employees “due to the fact that the SEA Board of Directors never chose to initiate an outside investigation (into the NHLC), and the need to rebuild and heal the relationship with members and management of the commission.”

February sting

The controversy stems from a Feb. 3 sting operation by Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord, who, accompanied by Gulla, witnessed the sale of $24,000 worth of Hennessy cognac to an out-of-state couple at a Keene store.

A store employee, who was later fired, arranged the large-volume sale by dividing it into three sales so that the purchasers would not have to file the required IRS forms for cash transactions above $10,000.

The SEA is appealing the firing of the employee, Garrett Boes, whom the union and Volinsky describe as a whistleblower, while the liquor commission says he was fired for violating its policies on bulk transactions.

The sting operation triggered a 13-page report by Volinsky to Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, claiming the commission is complicit in bulk sales to bootleggers and calling for an investigation into the large cash transactions, where the money comes from and how it is handled.

More recently, the SEA posted a well-produced web ad calling for a change in leadership at the NHLC.

The manager of one Manchester store, also an SEA member, is circulating a petition seeking a membership meeting with union leaders to discuss the situation. That meeting has yet to be scheduled.

Actions not authorized

Lacey points out that the union’s involvement in the NHLC investigation by Volinsky was initiated without any authorizing votes or member buy-in, as was the union demand for new leadership at the liquor commission.

“The members didn’t take a vote. They were never surveyed. The board of directors wasn’t asked. Never voted. Then calling for new leadership at the NHLC?” said Lacey in an interview. “There is no record anyone can find of that being voted on. It’s not normal.”

The issue came up at the June 14 council meeting of 17 union leaders, at which “an engaged and excited group of NHLC members came together to address the council on short notice,” according to Lacey.

“It was after the council meeting and talking to members themselves that I came to the realization that maybe this is a personal conflict of interest and maybe that’s what’s driving this because otherwise it just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Strong disagreement

Gulla declined to provide a response to Lacey’s email, but SEA spokesperson Melissa Moriarty responded by email on his behalf.

“We respect an individual’s right to their opinion. We strongly disagree with the way the past president has qualified the situation,” she wrote. “We are working to resolve this matter internally before commenting further, but stress that this is the union’s fight to ensure employee safety and not the fight of any one union president.

“We stand by our message: There are significant safety concerns surrounding these large cash volume sales for employees and the IRS requirements are not being met. It is our job to protect the members and restore the public’s trust in the NHLC.”

Lacey has asked her request to be posted on the SEA Board of Directors agenda for the July meeting.

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