The state representative blamed for the ongoing fiasco at Gunstock Mountain Resort has raised the stakes, accusing Gov. Chris Sununu of a conflict of interest and suggesting he may have accepted an improper political donation from the resort.
Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), who heads up the Belknap County delegation, is accusing Sununu of interfering with the county-owned Gunstock Mountain Resort to benefit his own ski property, the Waterville Valley Resort.
“This is an ethical quandary for the governor as it interferes with the leadership of a competitor ski area, whose closure stands to benefit his family and his pocketbook,” Sylvia said in an open letter responding to Sununu’s criticisms.
The Sununu family is the principal investor in the Waterville Valley Resort. Sununu worked as CEO at Waterville until he was elected governor.
Sylvia is also calling out Sununu for a $500 campaign donation he accepted from the resort for his 2020 re-election campaign.
Sununu isn’t backing down, lashing out at the extreme political views of Sylvia and some of his allies.
“They wanted to secede from the United States of America, completely un-American. They don’t believe in democracy,” Sununu said Wednesday. “I think those individuals should be removed for a variety of reasons. This is just the latest episode of their craziness.”
Asked if he was urging Belknap County residents to vote out a fellow Republican — meaning Sylvia– Sununu replied, “Oh, absolutely.”
Among the three lawmakers singled out by Sununu, only Sylvia voted for secession. Sununu said it is impossible to try to convince Sylvia and his followers to return the Gunstock management team to the resort.
“There are individuals that don’t believe in government. They don’t believe in America. They don’t believe in the Republican Party. They don’t believe in anything that we really stand for, so there really is no reasoning or rationalizing with them,” Sununu said.
Sununu also defended the management team and their decision to walk out.
“I think (Gunstock’s General Manager) Tom Day and the team that he’s had there have done a tremendous job. It took a lot of guts to do what they did, but they’ve made it clear they want Gunstock to succeed,” Sununu said. “They want to come back and make sure it gets right back on the right track, but they’re not gonna do it under the same circumstances.”
In his letter, Sylvia also claimed Day was under investigation for using Gunstock money to make a political donation to Sununu’s campaign when he quit.
“Since Gunstock is owned by Belknap County all its funds are public monies and using public dollars to support a political campaign is clearly improper and possibly violative of the law,” Sylvia wrote.
Sylvia claims Day quit rather than submit to the investigation. Sununu has offered Day and the other managers jobs at Waterville or with the state if they cannot work out a resolution at Gunstock. Sylvia claims that is more proof of Sununu’s unethical meddling.
Sylvia also supplied a copy of the $500 check from Gunstock that Day sent to the Friends of Chris Sununu in 2020.
“Making such an offer after receiving a campaign contribution is the definition of quid-pro-quo,” Sylvia said.
Sununu’s campaign manager Paul Collins pushed back on the accusation of impropriety, saying no law was broken.
“Under state law, a contribution from the Gunstock Area Commission is not a prohibited political contribution and the Friends of Chris Sununu did nothing wrong in accepting a contribution,” Collins said. “The governor is standing with thousands of citizens in Belknap County and beyond calling for a new commission that will get Gunstock open and serving the public again. There is no quid pro quo, and such an accusation is without merit. If any of our contributors request a refund of their contribution, we of course oblige their request.”
Rep. Aidan Ankaberg (R-Rochester) called for greater scrutiny of Sununu’s actions after he learned about the donation.
“This is public malfeasance and there needs to be transparency and accountability,” Ankaberg said.
The management team at Gunstock quit last week after months of fighting with the Gunstock Area Commission, accusing the political appointees of incompetence and interference. Gunstock enjoyed record revenue under the management team. The resort employs 600 people making it Belknap’s biggest employer.
The commission is made up of five members who are all appointed by the county delegation, which is currently controlled by Sylvia. Sununu has called for Sylvia and his supporters in the delegation to be voted out of office and to have commissioners Peter Ness and David Strang removed from the commission. According to Commissioner Doug Lambert, the management team has agreed to return once Strang and Ness are removed.
Meanwhile, the Belknap County Commission has joined in the call for the two problematic commissioners to resign, and they have sent a letter to the state Attorney General’s Office urging oversight of the resort’s assets.
“The County Commissioners believe nothing less than the survival of Gunstock as we know it is at stake,” they wrote to Attorney General John Formella.