January 03, 2013OSSIPEE — This year all eyes were on the business of Carroll County government, thanks in large part to the video recording of all county meetings by Ed Comeau of Brookfield, who then posts the videos on the Internet to his website www.governmentoversite.com. More than ever before, citizens across Carroll County and beyond are keeping an eye on the workings of the county commissioners and the county delegation.
It was a rough year in Carroll County government as week after week it was reported in 2012 that there was tension at the county commission table, as well as tension between the commissioners and employees and the public. Grievances were filed, contracts were disputed, a barn fell down, administrators resigned, and the November election brought on a major change in leadership.
The year started out with an investigation into just how an inmate was able to scale the jail yard fence on Dec. 1, 2011 and lead law enforcement officials on a two-state manhunt that finally resulted in the capture of David Hobson five days later. The investigation took about five months and as a result several security improvements were recommended to be put into place but, in the end, the jail staff was found not to be at fault for the escape. Recommended security measures include upgrading the facility's security cameras, making changes to the existing recreation yard fencing, and adding a perimeter fence around the jail complex. The cameras are in the 2013 recommended budget, repairs have been made to the existing fencing, but despite the jail subcommittee's recommendation, the perimeter fencing which was also recommended back when the jail was built nearly a decade ago is not being funded in this year's budget.
The installation of a grant-funded pellet boiler did not happen without controversy at the beginning of 2012. The boiler, now operating at full capacity and providing heat and hot water to the county's new nursing home, nearly wasn't installed at all. The installation contract at a cost of $375,000 went to the same company that oversaw construction of the new nursing home, BPS. The commissioners put the project out for bid, only received one bid, spent more money to advertise the project and still only received the bid from BPS. Commissioners were chastised for hold an "emergency" meeting for the sole purpose of awarding the contract rather than taking the vote during the regular commissioner's meeting. Commissioner Asha Kenney questioned "what's the rush" and remained silent when asked what her vote was.
The county delegation, made up of the county's 14 state representatives and charged with overseeing the county budget, nearly shut down the boiler installation project, however, when they argued for hours about what is to become of the county's old nursing home. The old home was always intended, according to commissioners, to house the county complex's laundry facility, maintenance office and storage, and the pellet boiler system. At length, in January, the delegation tried but could not come to an agreement about what the term "mothballing" means and voted to halt the pellet boiler installation project while they tried to decide what to do with the old nursing home. A week later, however, the voted to lift their stop order and allowed the boiler installation to proceed.
By the end of 2012, however, the question about what to do with the old nursing home still hadn't been resolved though there were attempts made. The delegation formed a subcommittee that met several times and decided on a recommendation to present to the full delegation. The subcommittee was charged with coming up with a plan that cost less than a million dollars and they came to agreement on a $980,000 plan. Since the money to fund the plan was to be spent out of the surplus from the new nursing home bond, the vote required a two-thirds majority but the group just couldn't get to that point. Their plan called for the demolition of all four of the nursing home wings and major modifications to the core of the building. The plan also included wing demolition to start in October, giving the county commissioners six months to sign contracts with tenants who were interested in leasing and renovating those sections of the building. While some delegates held fast to their agenda that the entire building should be torn down and gave that as their reason for voting against the subcommittee's plan, others voted against the plan because it included demolition of a part of "a perfectly good building."
At the end of 2012 it was still uncertain if UNH Cooperative Extension will be moving from its Conway location to the county complex. Commissioner Dorothy Solomon has made several pleas for the consideration that the building be used as a homeless shelter for veterans. As of press time, the only decision that has been made on the future of the building appears to be not to vote to do anything.
There was a major changing of the guard in 2012 as the nursing home administrator Sandi McKenzie resigned and Howie Chandler was hired to take her place. Cheryl Delisle resigned as the director of nursing and Becky Mason now fills that position. One high-level position that brought a lot of publicity was the grievance and resignation of the county's first human resource director, Robin Reade. Reade filed a grievance in December 2011 against Commissioner Kenney's "conduct" and the investigation into the grievance and the backlash from it carried on nearly half of 2012. Reade resigned in May. In August, the commissioners hired Janice Sullivan as the new human resources director. As of the end of the year, despite the fact elected officials are not protected under the state's right-to-know law, the county commissioners continued to, on the advice of their attorney, refuse to release the findings of the investigation into Kenney's conduct.
In part two of our county year-in-review, next week we take a look back at the three other grievances filed publicly against county commissioners, all of which the commissioners are remaining mum about. We will also take a look at how Sorensen has tried to take back control of the weekly meetings as well as how the November election just might make a difference in how county government is run for the next two years.