The standoff between the five-member panel that runs Gilford’s Gunstock Mountain Resort and Belknap County legislators intensified Tuesday when the lawmakers voted to spend up to $20,000 to hire lawyers should they try to oust the majority of the board.

The flap began in October, when members of the Gunstock Area Commission asked the Belknap County delegation, made up of the county’s members of the state House of Representatives, to consider removing Peter Ness from the commission over an apparent conflict of interest. The commission said Ness was trying to sell Gunstock a software system his company had developed.

Prior to the delegation’s vote not to dismiss Ness, the commission asked that Reps. Mike Sylvia, the delegation chair, and Norm Silber be disqualified from the vote because they were biased in favor of Ness.

On Nov. 11, the Gunstock commission, which is appointed by the delegation to oversee the county-owned resort, filed a motion in Belknap County Superior Court seeking to halt the delegation’s Nov. 16 meeting because commission members believed the delegation wanted to oust commissioners Gary Kiedaisch, Brian Gallagher and Rusty McLear.

Judge James O’Neill declined to halt Tuesday’s meeting, and the agenda item to remove the three commissioners was withdrawn. O’Neill scheduled a hearing on the dispute for 11 a.m. on Dec. 23.

While the Gunstock commission said in court documents the delegation is retaliating against it for trying to remove Ness, Sylvia at Tuesday’s meeting dismissed the commission’s concerns as “defamatory and baseless claims” against Ness.

He speculated that Ness was being too diligent “in seeking information” that was relevant to his being a Gunstock commissioner.

Sylvia said the dispute between the delegation and Gunstock commission was “a hot topic in Belknap County and beyond.”

The Gunstock commission, which recently unveiled an ambitious master plan, claims that the delegation wants to privatize the resort. Sylvia answered, “as far as I know, there is no one interested in closing” or otherwise harming Gunstock.

He said there had been “little to no public input” on the master plan, which he said appears to have been produced by a subcommittee that did not record minutes.

Sylvia gave the Gunstock Commission credit for the resort being profitable in 2020, but undercut the praise by adding that many outdoor venues were successful then. He noted that in 2000, Gunstock defaulted on a $6 million loan.

“My only agenda,” Sylvia said before the 11-5 vote delegation vote on Tuesday to appropriate money for legal fees in response to the Gunstock Commissioner’s lawsuit, “is open and transparent operation of a county asset.”