OSSIPEE — Carroll County's chief financial officer, who came aboard in September, is no longer working for the county, county commissioners announced in a bombshell that appeared to stun members of the legislative delegation Monday.
Fergus Cullen of Dover started work Sept. 21. He came to Carroll County after having served as chief financial officer of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover for four years. He also served as a Dover City Councilor since October and was the New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman from 2007-09.
The delegation met Monday to work on the 2021 county budget, which totals about $35 million. The delegation, consisting of 15 state representatives, approves budgets that the commissioners manage with help from department heads. The county government includes a prosecutor’s office, a jail, a nursing home and the registry of deeds.
The topic of Cullen came up when Terry McCarthy (R-Conway), commissioners' chair, was to give an update on the 2020 audit being done by Batchelder Associates of Keene.
The 2019 audit, done by Melanson, with offices in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, was presented in January. The 2019 audit was already late when Cullen arrived.
Rep. Steve Woodcock (D-Conway) mentioned that at a recent meeting, Cullen said the county was on track with the 2020 audit.
"Mr. Cullen is no longer the chief financial officer for the county," replied McCarthy. "So he's not here today to answer questions. We just want to thank him for his efforts and service to the county for the past five months. And if you have any questions, they'll have to be directed to the commissioners or the finance department."
Cullen had said in previous meetings that the 2020 audit was expected to be done in June.
Woodcock appeared shocked and asked what happened to Cullen.
"Did he resign? Did he leave? Did he go somewhere else?" pressed Woodcock.
McCarthy replied, "I'm sorry, I can't make any further comments at this time."
Reached by phone Monday, Cullen said he had no comment.
At the meeting, Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom) said he was "baffled" by the news and wondered about the secrecy.
"We struggled hard to have a CFO, and he's done a great job and then suddenly disappears," said Knirk. "We have the delegation currently tasked with performing the work of the budget, and suddenly we don't have a CFO. And what's the secret of why he's not with us today?"
Delegation chairman Lino Avellani (R-Wakefield) said employment is a matter for the commissioners.
Rep. Tom Buco (D-Conway) asked who was going to take over Cullen's duties.
Treasurer Joe Costello said he and other members of the financial department are splitting Cullen's duties among themselves.
As far as the 2020 audit goes, McCarthy said that Bonnie Batchelder said she was having a hard time getting information from the county. Now, auditors are sending their requests for information to the commissioners. Finance staff are to copy commissioners on responses they send to Batchelder.
"Give us a chance as this process moves forward, and we will get the answers you need," said Costello.
Woodcock asked about Cullen's departure and and he wondered when it happened.
McCarthy replied it was as of March 1.
Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) said the county went years without a CFO and still has a treasurer and a new board of commissioners. "I feel things that things are in good hands," said Cordelli.
McCarthy said the CFO job would be advertised this week.
Cullen was hired by the board of commissioners when it consisted of Amanda Bevard (R-Wolfeboro), McCarthy and David Babson (R-Ossipee).
Kimberly Tessari (R-Ossipee) beat Babson the September primary and she went on to beat Bob Pustell (D-Ossipee) in the election. Bevard chose not to run for election. Matthew Plache (R-Wolfeboro) beat Chip Albee (D-Tuftonboro). Tessari and Plache took office in January.
The previous finance director, Chuck Stuart, was hired in September of 2015 and did not stay long.
County Administrator Ken Robichaud parted ways with the county last year under mysterious circumstances.
McCarthy announced a staffing change at the jail as well.
Pat Bachelder, who had been in charge since former superintendent Jason Henry left last summer, told the commissioners last Friday that he wished to return to his former job as deputy jail superintendent. Now, Bachelder's former deputy, Sean Eldridge, will be acting superintendent.
Commissioners will be advertising the jail superintendent position as well.
Reached for comment Friday, Bachelder, who has worked at the jail 16 years, said: “It wasn’t for me. I don’t need the added stress.”