With Gunstock Area Commission Chairman Peter Ness resigning Friday, and the former management team of Gunstock Mountain Resort indicating they would come back to work immediately if Dr. David Strang also resigns, the remaining two members gave Strang until 5 p.m. to resign and pleaded with legislators and the public to make that happen.
Commissioners Jade Wood and Doug Lambert, saying hours were of the essence to reopen the Belknap County-owned recreation area, urged remaining employees, legislative delegation members, and the public to pressure Strang to tender his resignation immediately during an emergency meeting Friday at the ski area.
At 5:20 p.m. Wood said Strang had not resigned, but she and Lambert were “tripling down” on their attempts to have him removed.
Lambert said if Strang, who attended the meeting remotely by Zoom and disconnected before the meeting ended for the second time in a week leaving a meeting abruptly during the crisis of leadership, he would be known as the man who destroyed Gunstock.
About 80 members of the public and Gunstock employees attended what was called an emergency meeting of the Gunstock Area Commission that was held Friday.
Most of the meeting was held in executive session behind closed doors.
The resort is now closed and chaos has ensued after top management and Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch resigned during a meeting on July 20.
Members of the public have said the county-owned recreation area, which cleared a $9 million profit this year, was being hijacked by political extremists who are Free Staters and libertarians who want the Belknap County ski area to be leased.
Tom Day, general manager, and his entire management team tendered their resignation and walked out of a meeting on July 20 saying they were fed up with the leadership of the commission which was not allowing them to operate effectively and was in fact trying to do their jobs.
Emerging after more than two hours in executive session Friday, Wood and Lambert said the four commissioners took care of some bank-related transfers that needed to occur in the executive session. They indicated that during the closed-door meeting Ness resigned.
Several lawyers also attended the meeting, they said.
Wood read a prepared statement thanking the employees who were there for staying on the job and for the public to stay as well “to hear the truth about what is happening here.”
A youth Christian music festival, “Soul Fest” expected to bring more than 6,000 to the recreation area for three days next week is looming and still on, but without management staff, while the rest of the resort amenities are closed, is problematic.
“The gravity and enormity of the impending festival,” led to the ultimatum, Wood said.
“I believe that today was a good day because today we are going to find out…the truth about what our state and local leadership county partnerships and advocates are really made of,” Wood said.
She said at 12:08 p.m. former commissioner Ness tendered his resignation.
Two minutes later, she said Strang “abruptly departed the meeting for a second time this week, once again neglecting his obligation to office despite our attempts to impress upon him the gravity of his…his own role as commissioner. So at this point. This is our open call, our plea as commissioners on behalf of commissioner Lambert and I to the members of the delegation to step up. This is the 11th hour for Gunstock. Today, by 5 o’clock we will find out exactly who stands for Gunstock, (Belknap County) residents, its taxpayers our neighbors our local schools our kids who maybe wanted to ski for their last year in Meister Cup. We are going to find out who stands with our local businesses and the businesses in this state and we are going to find out who stands for our customers,” Wood said.
Wood noted she is pregnant and expecting twins in two weeks and has been exhausted by the past eight days when she and Lambert have had to step in for the departed administrative staff.
Wood continued “so once again, please stand with me in demanding the resignation of Commissioner David Strang today and every second that this community suffers due to his inept leadership, and so many other things…until the ink dries from his resignation letter.”
Her comments were met with resounding applause.
Lambert noted that Thursday night he was reading about former President Richard Nixon and how all had lost trust in him and how Barry Goldwater, a fellow Republican, was instrumental to get Nixon to resign and to do the right thing for the country.
“What we are asking,” Lambert said, is “you all become Barry Goldwaters and you help us in this absolutely necessary task. We don’t have days, we literally have hours.”
The immediacy was impressed on the four, Lambert said, as he was in possession of signed documents from the leadership team saying they would be willing to come back without Strang and Ness as commissioners.
The team has agreed to return with no other requirements. There was no deadline in their offer and Wood and Lambert said there was no insurance deadline but the 5 p.m. deadline was intended to force the situation to a conclusion.
Lambert said the promise from the former employees included the ability to produce a chart listing all the requirements needed to operate the recreation area safely.
Lambert said he has had numerous conversations with Day and assurances that he would be back within days.
“If we can make this happen. If that guy Strang will do the right thing and make this happen I think that it will lead to many steps needed to open this mountain,” he said.
Lambert noted it would be possible to have a chair lift, a zip line, a mountain coaster, and the aerial tree top adventure center open in time for Soul Fest.
“One more thing,” said Lambert, “and I am going to be very cold right here. If Mr. Strang does not resign, I would make it a fair bet that one would say forever more that David Strang was responsible for the end of Gunstock Mountain.”
“It is critical that we get the senior management team here back,” Lambert said.
Gunstock has mostly been closed and in turmoil since the resignations last week, but the county-owned facility has also stirred up political controversy that has pit Gov. Chris Sununu against fellow Republican Rep. Mike Sylvia, R-Belmont, chair of the Belknap County delegation that appoints Gunstock commissioners.
Sununu has called Sylvia, a Free Stater, and two other Republican House members “crazy,” and Sylvia released to the public a copy of a check for $500 the commission sent to Sununu’s campaign in 2020.
“Since gunstock is owned by Belknap County all of its funds are public monies and using public dollars to support a political campaign is clearly improper and possible violative of law,” Sylvia said in a published statement.
Sylvia said because the commission is in the midst of an audit and “an internal legal investigation authorized by ALL of the Gunstock Commissioners, this and other financial irregularities are coming to light.”
Sununu’s campaign manager said there is nothing wrong with the commission donating to his campaign.
But Republican candidate for governor Karen Testerman has called for an outside investigation of the check that was signed by Tom Day, who was then Gunstock’s general manager.
Gary Kiedaisch, who resigned as commissioner last week, had said Thursday that he wanted to withdraw his resignation, but there was no mention of him at the meeting. Wood acknowledged Friday that Kiedaisch had resigned publicly.
Gunstock Area Commissioners Jade Wood and Doug Lambert are pictured at the emergency meeting Friday. Commission Chairman Peter Ness and Dr. David Strang are pictured on Zoom on Lambert's laptop before Ness resigned.