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Commissioner Sorensen clarifies advance payments to employees

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
August 14, 2014
OSSIPEE — Carroll County Commission Chair David Sorensen took a few minutes at the beginning of the board's Aug. 6 meeting to clarify his answer the previous week to the question whether the county had loaned money or paid advances to any employees.

The question was raised by Wakefield resident Steve Brown, who also submitted a written Right to Know request under state law RSA 91-A.

Sorensen stated that to his knowledge the county has never loaned money to any employee. He had answered "yes" to the question posed by videographer Ed Comeau of Brookfield last meeting on whether the county had ever paid advances to some employees. Sorensen clarified that advances were given in his tenure to fewer than five people based on a demonstrated hardship and that the advances were paid based on time the employee had accrued for sick days and vacation. The amount advanced was based on what the employee would be paid out if he or she left county employment.

Commissioner Dave Babson said he appreciated Sorensen's "honest answer," adding that he knew of three cases in the past that he would have voted for if he had been commissioner then.

Neither Brown nor Commissioner Asha Kenney were present when Sorensen made his statement at the beginning of the meeting, and the subject came up again later during the second public comment period of the meeting. Before giving his written response to Brown's RSA 91-A question, Sorensen asked his fellow commissioners to sign. Kenney said she could not sign it because she was not a commissioner during all the years Sorensen has served. Babson said the same but added the Kenney was a commissioner in 2011-12 when three advances were given.

Brown read the response and asked Sorensen, "why did you lie?"

Sorensen said he did not lie, that there were no loans, only advances, and that he had made a statement earlier that Brown could review on tape.

Brown then asked if there were policies in place with regard to employee loans. Sorensen responded, "No. We don't give loans." He went on to say that requests for advances are limited to an employee's accrued time off and are considered on a case-by-case basis based on a claimed hardship, and that there was no written policy. He said he has always urged employees to take a vacation rather than have the time paid out.

Brown stated that he considered the terms of his RSA 91-A request were not met.

"So sue us," Babson responded. Brown said he had a number of unanswered 91-A requests to build a case on.

Babson said that the 2011-12 requests he was aware of were in writing and were only discussed in non-public session. "It makes you wonder how they were made public," he said.

Kenney, the official keeper of non-public minutes, retorted that all of Brown's questions were asked in public session. How he knew what to ask was not disclosed.

Sorensen closed the discussion by stating emphatically, "The county never made a loan during my time as commissioner. All we have done is given out money for hardships based only on earned time."

Bid decisions made

Commissioners did get some work done during their Aug. 6 meeting.

Bob Murray, maintenance supervisor at Mountain View Community nursing home, brought back, with his recommendations, the bids opened the previous week for wood pellets and an elevator service contract.

There were two bids for bulk wood pellets, used as fuel to heat and provide hot water for the new nursing home. The current provider, Sandri Energy of Greenfield, Mass., bid $242.82 a ton, delivered. Lyme Green Heat of Lyme, N.H., bid $239 a ton, delivered.

Murray noted that Sandri has been the county's supplier for three seasons. Lyme Green Heat has been in business three years and is just getting into bulk deliveries. He said both companies get their pellets from the same source, New England Wood Pellet in Jaffrey, N.H.

The difference in total cost over 400 tons would be $1,528, Murray said. The county used 316 tons last season and 283 tons the season before.

Babson wondered why the two bids give different moisture content for the pellets (Sandri 2-3 percent, Lyme Green 8 percent or less) if they come from the same source.

Murray responded that content varies by batch.

Babson moved to award the contract to Sandri Energy on the principle "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't" and the good experience with the company so far, noting that the difference in cost will be less than $1,528 if the county again uses 300 tons instead of 400. The vote for Sandri was unanimous.

Three bids were received for the elevator maintenance contract for Mountain View Community nursing home: Otis Elevator bid $495 a month on a two-year contract; Stanley Elevator bid $843.75 a quarter on a five-year contract; and Pine State Elevator bid $3,950 a year also on a five-year contract. Murray noted that Pine State was $2,000 less annually than Otis and that Stanley would charge $2,750 for a required load test, making Pine State the lowest bid.

Babson moved to award the contract to Pine State with the proviso that it is subject to annual approval by the county delegation, which has final budget approval. The vote was unanimous.

Other business

Sorensen praised Murray and his crew for keeping the nursing home "looking great."

Babson discussed what could be done about the terrible acoustics in the Mountain View meeting room. Murray said addressing that problem was on his project list.

Babson and Sorensen discussed the state of the old home with Murray. It was agreed to clear out unwanted material stored there and put the commercial kitchen equipment there up for sale.

Murray also said a Request for Proposals will go out shortly for connecting the wood pellet boiler to the laundry. He noted that the last bid was for $36,000, which "would pay for a lot of propane," the current hot water fuel.

It was noted that the delegation would meeting on Monday to decide on whether two of the four wings of the old building would come down. There was some discussion of the commissioners' "vision" for the old building which Kenney declined to participate in.

The county commission meets at 8:30 a.m. every Wednesday morning in the county administration building meeting room. Video recordings of all meetings are available on governmentoversite.com.

Meanwhile, back in court…

On Thursday, Aug. 7, Superior Court Judge David Garfunkel held a preliminary hearing on the suit filed by Commissioners Babson and Sorensen seeking to remove Commissioner Kenney from office and Kenney's countersuit to have Babson and Sorensen removed.

Babson and Sorensen filed their suit after county human resources employee Deb Newlin read a lengthy complaint against Kenney for personal abuse on June 4. The suit accuses her of "repeated conduct, unbecoming of an elected official [that is] unethical, unprofessional and unrepresentative of the will of the board of the Carroll County commissioners."

Kenney then countersued, repeating charges she has made against her fellow commissioners before, including denying her access to information and giving preferential treatment to some employees, as well as "hidden misuse of county monies," trust fund irregularities, insurance fraud, failing to bid out contracts as required by law, and preventing her from keeping records.

Kenney asked the court to prevent Newlin from harassing her, a request Judge Garfunkel denied since Newlin is not a party in the suit. She also asked to move the case to Grafton County Superior Court because of the "negative publicity" given her case. Garfunkel said he was new to the county and had not heard anything about the case, but he might rule on Kenney's request during the week of Aug. 11.

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