“Quit, guys!” Controversial Gunstock commissioners walk out of meeting

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The Gunstock Mountain Resort management team that left their jobs last week will return, but only if two Gunstock area commissioners step down from their supervisory duties.

State Rep. Mike Bordes (R-Laconia) said the leadership team wanted to see Peter Ness and David Strang leave the commission.

“If they quit, the management team will come back,” Bordes said.

Commissioner Doug Lambert said there was an urgent need to get the team back up and running and to prepare for the upcoming season.

“Winter is coming, although it may not look like it outside,” Lambert said. “It comes quickly and the necessary preparations are rather enormous. Every lost day could potentially impact the other end.

The county-owned ski resort has been closed since the massive resignation of the management team in response to inept oversight by commissioners. Tom Day, Managing Director of Gunstock, Cathy White, Chief Financial Officer; Robin Rowe, Director of Resort Services; Peter Weber, Snow Sports Director; Rebecca LaPense, Director of Human Resources; Patrick McGonangle, Facilities Operations Manager; and Kristen Lodge, director of marketing, all resigned last week in protest.

Although the team gave their two weeks’ notice, the commission responded by dispatching Belknap County Sheriff’s Deputies to have them removed the following day. This week, four other mid-level managers also left their jobs, leaving the establishment unable to operate its summer business and unlikely to be open for the winter.

Lambert said more staff will quit if something isn’t done. He plans to have the station crew put their agreement to return in writing once Ness and Stang are gone.

The facility generates millions of dollars in revenue for the economy and just had a record season of $9 million in revenue. Without the team members who resigned agreeing to return, it would be difficult to reopen. Finding ski industry professionals willing to take the job might be impossible, Bordes said.

“Who’s going to want this job with everything going on around it?” Bordes asked.

The commission met on Tuesday at the request of local leaders and members of the public to establish a timetable for reopening. Lambert said there were also indications that Ness and Strang were set to participate in a non-public session to make new hires to temporarily launch the site.

Instead, Commissioner Jade Wood presented Strang and Ness with resignation papers to sign. Bordes said people were chanting for them to quit and yelling at them when they tried to speak.

“Get out guys, that’s what the people want!” Bordes screamed as Ness and Strang rushed out of the meeting. They did not offer their resignation.

None of the commissioners responded to a request for comment.

“They didn’t quit. But for me, it’s quitting work,” Bordes said,

Bordes, Wood, Lambert and others plan to push the GOP-controlled Belknap County delegation to remove Ness and Strang if they don’t go on their own. Bordes wants to see the management team brought back.

“I give them credit, they really stood up for what they think is right,” Bordes said.

Members of the Gunstock Area Commission are appointed by the county’s elected delegation to the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Belknap’s delegation is controlled by controversial state Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont). Lambert spoke to Sylvia about handling the situation, but said Sylvia would not agree to call a delegation meeting. Lambert contacted all 18 members of the delegation to resolve the situation.

“It is not clear at this time if it is possible to have an emergency meeting,” Lambert said. “I made it clear to them that it was an emergency.”

Sylvia is on the political fringe and was behind efforts to secede New Hampshire from the United States. His proposal received only 13 votes in the Legislative Assembly and it was widely derided.

Members of the commission and delegation have been feuding with the Gunstock team for months. Lambert said it comes down to leadership disputes and who has authority over day-to-day decisions. He said Ness was seen as interfering in the finance office, and even in resort snow sports planning, by team members.

“(The management team) felt the relationship had become untenable. They no longer had the comfort level to be able to work with the commission,” Lambert said.

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