OSSIPEE — County officials at a Thursday meeting appeared to lose their cool over masks and the apparent inability by county staff to get county audits done on time.
The county legislative delegation, made up of 15 local state representatives, held their quarterly meeting Thursday. Also attending were the county commissioners who manage the budget overseen by the delegation: Amanda Bevard (R-Wolfeboro), David Babson (R-Ossipee) and Terry McCarthy (R-North Conway).
The marathon meeting started around 9:30 a.m. and concluded around 1 p.m.
Face masks — obligatory due to the COVID-19 pandemic — became a point of contention for Bevard, who abruptly left the meeting after Treasurer Joe Costello lowered his mask to make a point. Bevard, McCarthy and Costello were seated together, with McCarthy in the middle.
"I will join you later on Zoom," said Bevard as she left the room. "I will not be contaminated."
To which Costello replied, "Very good."
Ten minutes earlier, she had taken Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) to task for improperly wearing his mask.
Cordelli had been arguing that the county's transition to a financial software system called Avenue should not be left to Finance Director Kathy Armstrong because it's a large and important job and she's busy with other things.
"You can disregard whatever I say, but I have 30 years of experience in this," said Cordelli, as Bevard noticed that he was letting his mask slip down below his nose.
"You totally disregarded our request from our people here to wear your mask properly," said Bevard. "So I am finding it very difficult to even listen to you when I know what you're doing is not correct."
Some members of the delegation were clearly upset over the fact that the 2019 audit had not been completed and that the books for 2019 aren't closed yet.
The county is on a calendar year that closes Dec. 31. It then takes time to close the books because not all the bills are in by then.
Delegation members said the audit was due 120 days after the books closed.
Costello said even though he's the treasurer he doesn't know if the books closed. He said while his access to information has increased over the years, he doesn't have access to all of it.
"It just seems like common courtesy to let the treasurer know that the books were closed," said Costello. "We're not privy to that information."
McCarthy had to go find Amstrong, who left the meeting. Returning, she said Armstrong told her the 2019 books never closed.
Rep Ed. Comeau (R-Brookfield) said he sued in Superior Court to force the county to complete an audit in 2018. He threatened to do it again. He said the New Hampshire constitution changed since then and he's got a stronger position now.
"I can go back to court and now I can sue this county, and each and every one of you for not performing your duties as the statute says," said Comeau, adding the law changed to give him standing as a taxpayer.
"We have to make a choice. It's either going to cost everyone a lot of money and a lot of time or the commissioners are going to hire a CFO and stop (putting) all of this financial information on one individual. This is just ridiculous."
Comeau pointed out the delegation budgeted money specifically for a chief financial officer this year but that commissioners have yet to hire one.
McCarthy said she had argued for a CFO to be hired but could not get Bevard or Babson to agree.
Cordelli said he was "very troubled" by an email from the audit company Melanson stating that the delay was based on COVID-19, the vacant county administrator position (Ken Robichaud was fired January and not replaced) and ongoing issues with the payroll company and lack of staffing.
In an email dated June 30 that was shared by Cordelli, Melanson principal Alyssa K. Simard wrote Armstrong: "As recommended in past audits, the county should review roles and responsibilities and staffing levels in order to determine if they are sufficient to enable county staff to be able to perform their duties accurately and in a timely manner," said
Armstrong said Melanson didn't even send her any requests for information until the end of May. She said that while COVID-19 didn't cause issues for her last year, it's created the need to do more work this year to make sure payroll is met.
"I've been scrambling in every direction possible," said Armstrong.
Delegation Chairwoman Edie DesMarais (D-Wolfeboro) said the issue with Avenue and the audit is due to the fact that the finance department is understaffed.
"I'm really getting tired of going to bed at night and praying that Katheryn (Armstrong) survives because she is the only person we have who really knows what's going on. And I don't think it's appropriate."
DesMarais told the Sun Friday that a committee of lawmakers will be looking into staffing issues at the business office.
At the outset of the meeting, Bevard introduced the delegation to new Human Resources Director Chris Heroux, who started Wednesday. Prior to coming to Ossipee, he was the human resources manager at Genesis Healthcare (Mineral Springs) in North Conway, and prior to that he was the assistant store manager at North Conway's Walmart.
He grew up in Berlin but now lives in the valley.
"I'm excited to have this opportunity with the county," said Heroux. "And everybody's been great so far."
Heroux replaced Bonnie Murley, who claimed she was fired for "bogus reasons" in April.
Heroux was questioned by Rep. Lino Avellani (R-Wakefield, who asked: "Can we count on you to remain independent, focused and not fall into the abyss of the good ol' boy system?"
Heroux replied, "I'm an objective person. So I stay in my lane, I deal with HR stuff ... I'm just an objective person here to do the job."
Avellani added he sits on the labor committee at the state house.
"I will be watching," said Avellani who added he would also be helpful to Heroux.