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Sununu Urges Recall of Belknap State Reps in Gunstock Fiasco

Gov. Chris Sununu called out Republican members of the Belknap County legislative delegation over the fiscal fiasco at Gunstock Mountain Resort, and he has got an unusual ally in the fight: state Sen. Bob Giuda, who has endorsed one of Sununu’s opponents in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

Sununu, Giuda, and other Republican leaders are pointing the finger of blame at Republican Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), best known as a leader in the fringe movement to get New Hampshire to secede from the Union. Sylvia and a handful of his fellow GOP legislators, including Reps. Norman Silber, R-Gilford and Gregg Hough, R-Laconia, have waged political war on the leadership of the popular resort.

In response to the questionable tactics of the commission appointed by the delegation, Gunstock’s leadership resigned en masse.

“These individuals have made bad decisions and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset the Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer,” Sununu wrote in an open letter to Belknap residents released Thursday. Sununu called out Sylvia, Silber and Hough by name, as did Giuda.

“They just had the best year in Gunstock history, with $9 million in profit, and the commissioners went to war with the Gunstock management,” Giuda said.

“The delegation, under Mike Sylvia’s chairmanship, have taken it upon themselves to wreak havoc for no reason. This is a vindictive bunch who believe in extreme measures, and this is not the New Hampshire way.”

The new commission has been sparring with Gunstock’s management team for months, with Sylvia making unfounded accusations of mismanagement. 

On Wednesday night, the resort’s management teams were excluded from the commissioner’s table at the meeting, a break from past practice. That was seen as a bridge too far, and Gunstock General Manager Tom Day stood up and gave his two weeks’ notice. His resignation was quickly followed by Cathy White, chief financial officer; Robin Rowe, director of resort services; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of human resources; Patrick McGonagle, facilities operation director; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing, according to an NHPR report.

The resort is now closed for business.

The ski area is owned by Belknap County. It has always been managed by a five-member commission appointed by the county delegation. Giuda said the ski area is vital to the local economy and the leadership team at the mountain had been doing a great job.

Sylvia did not respond to a request for comment. Silber said Thursday he was preparing a statement on his behalf, as well as Sylvia and Hough’s, but that statement had not been received at press time.

District 2 State Senate Candidate Tim Lang said he “stands with Governor Sununu and Senator Giuda in opposing the Belknap County Delegations’ reckless actions that have led to this mass departure at Gunstock. Gunstock is a jewel of the Lakes Region that has brought outdoor family recreation to generations of Granite Staters.”

Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch quit in protest Wednesday night soon after the management team gave their notice. Neither Kiedaisch nor any of the remaining members of the commission, Peter Ness, Douglas Lambert, David Strang, and Jade Wood, responded to requests for comment on Thursday.

Giuda blames all the GOP members of the Belknap County delegation, and he also blames Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem). According to Giuda, Morse killed his amendment that would change the Gunstock Area Commissioners from being appointed by the delegation to being elected by the voters of the county.

Giuda included the change as an amendment to a bill that would have changed the length of terms for Rockingham County officials, but Morse opposed it because he did not want to potentially alienate Rockingham voters, Giuda said.

“I asked him why, to which he answered, ‘Because I need the Rockingham County vote,’ referring to his U.S. Senate campaign,” Giuda claims. “By killing the amendment for his own political gain, Morse emboldened the warring delegation members and hostile GAC to continue their assault on the Gunstock team.”

Morse’s team did not respond to a request for comment.

Morse is a candidate in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. Giuda has endorsed Don Bolduc in that race.

Gunstock Mountain hosts summer activities, including an adventure park, that have been forced to close after the commission sent sheriff’s deputies to have staff removed from the premises on Thursday. Giuda called the situation a complete disaster.

“They have destroyed the most profitable, forward-looking management team the Gunstock Area Commission has ever had,” Giuda said.

Giuda said there is a method to the seeming madness. He accused Silber of wanting to privatize the public asset, and that the destabilizing actions of the commissioners he helped to appoint move the mountain resort closer to that goal. Right now, no one with any experience in running a ski area will want to work for the commission.

Silber has made no secret of his stance, writing op-eds for local papers urging the resort’s privatization.

Sununu is calling on the commission to find a way to keep the management team and keep the operations at the mountain going. Short of that, Sununu is offering jobs to all the team members who quit, either with the state Parks Department or at the state-owned Cannon Mountain.

“Their loss is immeasurable for Gunstock, and we all hope that this crisis can be avoided,” Sununu said.

“The people of Belknap County have all the opportunity in the world, whether it’s through elections or a recall effort,” Sununu told WMUR Thursday. “Change that team. Bring that management team back in.”

Sylvia, who moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State libertarian movement, could only convince 12 of his fellow House members to vote for his secession plan, a vote that inspired mockery of New Hampshire around the nation. Sylvia was also caught on a hot mic making racist comments, saying that secession supporters should tap into racist sentiment to push their agenda.

For Giuda, however, Sylvia’s most damaging actions have been right in Belknap County.

“This is the worst debacle in Gunstock’s history,” Giuda said. “I would be surprised if Gunstock survives.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote by Sen. Giuda to Gov. Sununu. We regret the error.

Advocates Say Fully Financing NH Alcohol Fund is Crucial To Stopping Opioid Crisis

Despite several inches of snow in most parts of the state, substance abuse prevention advocates and recovering addicts made the trek to the State House to show support for a bill that would be able to fund more recovery programs in the Granite State.

“What are we waiting for?,” deputy director at New Futures Kate Frey asked at a Tuesday press conference. New Futures is a nonprofit advocacy organization looking to prevent and reduce substance abuse in the New Hampshire. According to her, the state is suffering a serious epidemic and needs creativity to get out of it.

One of those creative solutions unique to New Hampshire and endorsed by New Futures should be fully funding the state’s Alcohol Fund.

The New Hampshire Alcohol Fund was created in 2000 as a non-lapsing and continually appropriated fund to support alcohol and drug education, abuse prevention, and treatment programs. The law provides 5 percent of the gross profits from the sale of alcohol to support such programs. The funds would be allocated to the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment to pay contracts for service providers in the communities hardest hit by opioid abuse.

The fund began during the 2003-2004 biennium and was fully funded in that budget. But every year since, the 5 percent funding has been suspended by either the governor or the legislature, and revenue transferred to the General Fund. In the subsequent years, the legislature appropriated only a small amount of general funds — significantly less than the 5 percent that was mandated by law for prevention and treatment.

The 2016-2017 state budget allocated only 1.7 percent to the Alcohol Fund. That total amount equated to about $6.6 million, instead of the $19 million had the fund received the total 5 percent. In the previous legislative session, lawmakers allocated an additional $2.5 million from the General Fund for prevention, treatment, and recovery in 2017, bringing the total to $9.1 million.

But a bill in the Senate would fully fund the Alcohol Fund for the 2017-2018 biennium at the 5 percent rate. At a hearing for Senate Bill 166 on Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, prime sponsor Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Kenne, said if the state is going to be serious about addressing the opioid crisis by focusing on prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery, then legislators should be doing everything possible to get ahead of the problem.

“Where we invest our money is a direct reflection of our priorities, and our priorities ought to be with people in New Hampshire who need care,” he said. Kahn also called for creative ways to fight to crisis with “yankee ingenuity.”

But it might not be an easy task to convince the Legislature that this is a worthwhile endeavor.

In the last biennium budget, lawmakers approved $42 million in substance abuse funding. Former Gov. Maggie Hassan was criticized for originally vetoing the budget, delaying the appropriation of the funds by three months. The total amount was $14 million more than the 2014-2015 budget. During the legislative session, lawmakers approved at least $5 million in additional funding.

Some legislators on the Senate Finance Committee were concerned that the state has already spent a significant amount of money, yet didn’t seem to fix anything.

“If we just throw money at the problem, we don’t necessarily solve the problem,” Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said.

Gov. Chris Sununu is scheduled to release his budget proposal for the 2018-2019 biennium on Thursday, so it remains to be seen how much money he’s putting towards the opioid crisis or if he plans to fully fund the Alcohol Fund. During his bid for the corner office, Sununu and his Democratic challenger Colin van Ostern said they supported returning the Alcohol Fund to 5 percent.

In his inauguration speech, Sununu said getting the opioid crisis under control was the state’s top priority.

“I believe we need to start in the beginning in terms of our schools,” he said on January 5. “Aggressive prevention programs in our schools that start earlier, that are more aggressive. And I think we need to start bringing in the parents and the stakeholders into those programs. There is a different path for everybody and we need to be open to all the paths. We need to put resources behind our words and take real action.”

NH Journal previously reported fully funding the Alcohol Fund had bipartisan support among most of the gubernatorial candidates. And when the fund was first debated in 2000, it received widespread, bipartisan support in the House and Senate. Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the original legislation establishing the Alcohol Fund, but a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate overrode her veto, so it has the potential to appeal to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.


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