THE CONTROVERSY in Belknap County over the historic Gunstock ski area is very confusing.

From an operational standpoint, things could not be better for the county-owned Gunstock. Last season, the area had record breaking skier visits and its highest profit ever. The resort has expanded its programming to make it a year-round facility and is beginning a process to adopt a master plan for future expansion.

As one local businessperson said in the Laconia Daily Sun, “the ski area has been thriving.”

The Gunstock Area Commission, which oversees the area, also takes its good governance responsibilities seriously. When allegations of conflict of interest and mistreatment of employees arose against commission member Peter Ness, the other members engaged in a thoughtful, transparent process. Rather than pass judgment immediately, they hired a respected attorney with experience in ski area matters to conduct an independent investigation.

Tom Quarles, the attorney, found that Ness had indeed run afoul of state laws relating to conflicts of interest in repeatedly trying to sell a computer software program to the ski area. In his report, Quarles also found that Ness had, among other things, interrupted ski instructors during lessons to question their abilities and qualifications.

Ness is a former ski instructor at Gunstock; according to the Quarles report, he was told that Gunstock would not renew his employment at the end of the 2019/2020 season due to his disruptive and abrasive relationships with other employees and management.

Based on the report, the other commission members voted to ask the Belknap County delegation to schedule a public meeting to terminate Ness’s membership for cause. The delegation, made up of all Belknap County’s state representatives, is responsible for appointing commissioners, and has the authority to terminate members for cause.

This is where it gets confusing.

The delegation did not vote to proceed on the commission’s request. No, according to commission minutes, state Representative Mike Sylvia, chairman of the Belknap County delegation, instead told the commissioners in an email that he was scheduling a meeting to remove the three members who had recommended Ness’s removal.

Not the fellow who, according to an independent investigation, violated state law regarding conflicts of interest and who interfered with instructors doing their jobs.

The Daily Sun quotes Sylvia as saying there was no conflict of interest because Ness had not actually sold the software. So, the other commissioners should be fired because they stopped a conflict of interest from happening? They should have bought the software and then brought up the conflict?

Does that make sense?

It does not to the people in Belknap County. According to the Daily Sun, 2,200 county residents signed a petition in support of the three commissioners Sylvia wants to fire.

Press accounts and commission minutes indicate Sylvia’s end goal is to privatize the ski area. That would mean turning a successful operation that currently distributes hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit to the county over to a private entity that does not have the best interests of Belknap County or its residents as a primary concern.

But Sylvia likes fixing wheels that are not broken. He is the sponsor of a constitutional amendment that requires New Hampshire to secede from the United States.

The effort to remove the three commissioners is on hold, and the parties are waiting for a court decision on an injunction.

However, four Belknap County state representatives have filed legislation to require approval of Gunstock’s budget by the county’s state representatives. As someone pointed out in the Daily Sun, that is the same group that voted to reduce the county nursing home’s oxygen budget. Imagine what they could do to Gunstock’s budget.

As an aside, this bill creates an unfortunate and undeserved headache for Gov. Chris Sununu. It is not a partisan issue; there are Republicans on each side. But his family has a significant financial interest in Waterville Valley. Asking him to veto or sign a bill with a significant impact on a competitor puts him in an awkward position.

It also is an unfortunate and undeserved headache for the employees and managers who have worked to make Gunstock the success it is today.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

JANUARY is a peaceful month, too cold to go anywhere so I sit in my spacious chair with a quilt around me, still in my pajamas at two in the afternoon, eating guacamole with tortilla chips and contributing nothing whatsoever to civilization or to the GNP, except for the occasional limerick.

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Friday, January 14, 2022
Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A BEAUTIFUL SNOW fell in Manhattan on Epiphany, the feast of light, and the city was cheerful that morning and my cabdriver said out of the blue, “It’s a beautiful day and we’re here and that’s what matters,” which is extraordinary coming from a cabdriver, an epiphany. I worry about cabdrive…

Sunday, January 09, 2022
Friday, January 07, 2022