LACONIA — What the Gunstock Area Commission describes as “doing our job” has created turmoil among staff members at Gunstock Mountain Resort, and their distress surfaced during the June 22 commission meeting at the resort. Belknap County.
“This is the first time in my experience that my heart has been shaken,” said Robin Rowe, who is director of resort services at the county-owned recreation area. She said the whole organization is suffering “because of what we go through here on a daily basis”.
“It’s disturbing,” Rowe said. “Morale is affected. I don’t know if you realize that. It’s not good, and it’s because of this controversial nature that I’ve never known, ever, in 21 years.
She continued, “I want to know from all of you, why are you so angry? … Everything that comes out of your mouth is argumentative, as if you were on the attack.
The comments came during a discussion of the company’s annual audit, which Dr David Strang, deputy chairman of the commission and chairman of the newly created audit committee, had interrupted.
Commission President Peter Ness said he sent an email at Strang’s request saying the audit would be halted, after he contacted the audit firm to let them know the commission had established an audit committee. The auditors told him, Ness said, that they would have to meet with the audit committee before proceeding. A meeting is scheduled for next week.
Strang nominated Representative Barbara Comtois of the Belknap County delegation and former Representative John Plumer to serve with him on the audit committee, but the committee has yet to meet.
Although Ness signed the audit agreement on May 25, he claimed he was unaware that the audit would begin on June 20. Strang had just convened the audit committee when they learned that the audit was already underway.
Strang challenged CFO Cathy White after learning that Gunstock was continuing to do the necessary legwork for the audit even after receiving Ness’ email halting the process.
“Who is responsible for the mountain?” Strang asked, to which Chairman and CEO Tom Day replied, “I am.”
“I don’t agree, and I’m very worried that you’re in charge of the mountain,” Strang retorted. “What role do you think the commission has?”
White said the audit committee had no role to play until the auditors filed a draft report, and she complained that she hadn’t even received notification when committee members dated. audit had been appointed.
“It shouldn’t be controversial like everything else,” White said.
Ness tried to calm the situation by explaining that the audit committee is something new, and he said that they were not interrupting the work on the ground, simply seeking answers to their questions on the audit. He called the problem miscommunication.
“It’s been my personal experience that unfortunately when the primary means of communicating with a large group of people is email, so much is lost in translation,” Ness said.
“The fact that we’ve had this type of conversation for over a year,” White said, “it’s not something obscure that’s going on; it happens every year. I asked for clarification on the audit committee, the framework and how I can help. »
Commissioner Jade Wood addressed Strang saying, “It’s not miscommunication when you didn’t let them know who was on the commission.”
Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch noted that he hadn’t received a lot of communication from the rest of the commission, and he urged Strang to “tone things down.” No need to attack. »
Ness said he didn’t think the letter asking for the audit to stop was “that important”, but he acknowledged that “it has become a matter of serious concern”.
Wood said it’s fair to ask if a single member of the commission can issue a directive such as stopping the audit. Ness said he would make sure to look into this because “some things don’t require a public meeting and some things do.”
The controversial atmosphere was present from the start of the meeting when Ness announced a new public comment policy in response to last month’s criticism of having to wait until after the meeting to speak, when decisions had been made. already been taken. Ness said he wanted to try to allow public comment at the start of the meeting instead.
As part of the new procedure, he asked Gunstock employees not to speak during the public comment period to ensure other members of the public have time to speak. He said employees should ask Gunstock management their questions instead.
This caused an outcry from the crowd gathered in the meeting room, about half of whom were employed by Gunstock. Unlike last month, many of them also said they preferred to speak later, after hearing the discussion of the agenda items.
Ness responded by asking the commission to allow public comment at the start and end of the meeting.
Former commissioner Ruth Larson has accused the current commissioners of imposing “death by 1,000 cuts” in an effort to destroy Gunstock. She asked by what authority the commission could say that the employees could not speak.
When several people suggested allowing comments when discussing individual agenda items, Strang retorted, “How about a seven-and-a-half-hour meeting?”
During the second public comment period, Heidi Preuss again addressed the audit, saying it was a messy process because the committee was created at the last minute. She said the commission should “go to a quiet place”.
Skip Murphy said: “Clearly there is a discontinuity here. There’s a lot of animosity, and frankly, I think the public, which is mostly employees, I think you have a right to free speech, I don’t have a problem, but it’s clear when y’all yelling in one voice about something it’s said you don’t like it’s clear it’s political…i think almost all the animosity that’s going on is due to the fact that a political power base has changed and is not well appreciated.
An unidentified speaker disagreed. “In the past, we had a commission that helped come up with new ideas, that made a master plan. And I certainly see there are issues with the master plan that not everyone likes, but there hasn’t been a discussion since this new commission was formed, of what a new master plan.
A non-public public session
There was to be a non-public session to discuss Day’s refusal to release personal contact information for Gunstock employees. With charges of insubordination likely, Day called for the session to be opened to the public.
Ness explained that the request came from the attorney reviewing the background to the commission’s lawsuit against the Belknap County convention. The attorney is preparing a final report, Ness said, and he wants to be able to contact the employees as part of his investigation.
Day said he couldn’t understand why they would need personal emails and phone numbers when anyone they wanted to talk to could be contacted through Gunstock. Also, he said, no seasonal employee would know about the lawsuit except what they read in the newspapers.
Becky LaPence, Gunstock’s director of human resources, said disclosing personal details would violate expectations of confidentiality and direct contact with the attorney, rather than passing the information through Ness – a party involved in the case under investigation – would be a better way to go.
Kiedaisch said the four commissioners behind the lawsuit — himself, Brian Gallagher, Russ Dumais and Rusty McLear — are the ones with the most information, but the lawyer has yet to contact them.
“What they are doing is tearing it off because there is enough documentation and enough recordings and videos to be able to clarify exactly what happened, when it happened and how it happened. happened,” Kiedaisch said, adding that there was no reason to ask Gunstock employees for information.
Ness admitted that having the attorney contact Day and make a formal request for what was needed would be a satisfactory answer to the case.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the name and title of staff member Robin Rowe, Director of Resort Services, and to correct the first name of Peter Ness, Chairman of the Gunstock Area Commission.