By Thomas P. Caldwell, InDepthNH.org
GILFORD — Gov. Chris Sununu has offered positions in the state’s Parks Department and Cannon Mountain to the members of Gunstock Mountain Resort’s management team who resigned en masse on July 20.
Calling their departures “immeasurable for Gunstock,” Sununu expressed the hope that “this crisis can be avoided,” but according to recently resigned Gunstock President and General Manager Tom Day, the Gunstock Area Commission has offered no olive branch to them and has been unwilling to accept their offer to help in the transition to a new management team.
“They’ve totally ignored anything we had to say,” Day said.
On Facebook, Gunstock employees posted a notice Thursday that Gunstock Adventure Park is closed until further notice. “We truly apologize for any inconvenience or letdown this may cause our guests. Please know that we are just as bummed as you are and hope to see you soon. With Love, Gunstock Mountain Resort Employees.”
On Thursday morning, members of the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department arrived at Gunstock to stand by while the team moved their belongings out of their offices.
“They don’t like us to still be here, but we are, to support the staff,” Day said, referring to a mid-day cookout they were holding for the Gunstock staff.
“This was a huge decision for us because of the staff,” Day added. “I mean, we’re close to these guys.”
Also resigning on July 20 were Chief Financial Officer Cathy White; Robin Rowe, director of Resort Services; Peter Weber, snow sports director; Rebecca LaPense, director of Human Resources, Patrick McGonagle, facilities operations director; and Kristen Lodge, director of Marketing.
In a statement to residents of Belknap County, Sununu said Belknap County has historically been a wonderful steward of Gunstock, “allowing it to grow, flourish, and provide terrific recreational opportunities for the people of Belknap County and the citizens of New Hampshire. … but what has been happening over the last year surrounding the Gunstock Area Commission’s inability and unwillingness to work collaboratively with the management team at Gunstock is deeply concerning.”
Despite being a fellow Republican, Sununu singled out Belknap County state Reps. Mike Sylvia, Norm Silber, and Gregg Hough, along with the remaining members of the Gunstock Area Commission, for having lost the trust of the citizens.
“These individuals have made bad decisions, and until they are removed from their positions and replaced with good people who recognize the wonderful asset that Gunstock is, the County will continue to suffer,” Sununu said.
“As someone who has worked in the resort industry, I can say without hesitation that the management team at Gunstock who submitted their resignations yesterday are among the best New Hampshire has to offer, and the loss of their expertise will be felt at Gunstock for years to come.”
A copy of the letter can be read here.
Sununu continued, “Immediately upon hearing of their resignations, I called General Manager Tom Day and informed him that, if a resolution is not reached, then he and his team would always have opportunities with our Parks Department and Cannon Mountain.”
The mass resignations on July 20 were not entirely unexpected. Day said they came to the meeting knowing they might have to resign, but relegating the management to seats in the audience was the precipitating event for the walkout.
Actions by the Gunstock Area Commission have been pushing the staff to desperation long before Wednesday’s meeting.
Minutes of the commission’s non-public session on July 1 reflect the desire to make sure that all employees at Gunstock, including Day, understand that they work for the GAC.
“Secretary [Doug] Lambert proposed a gentle, non-confrontational conversation with GM Day to remind him of the chain of command,” the minutes of the non-public session state.
At the previous meeting, on June 22, Dr. David Strang, who serves as vice-chair of the commission, had asked Day, “Who’s in charge of the mountain?” When Day responded, “I am,” Strang said, “I disagree, and I’m very concerned that ‘you’re in charge of the mountain.’ What role do you think that the commission has?”
Before walking out of the July 20 meeting, Day cited his “diminished role” as part of the reason for his decision to resign.
In a telephone conversation on July 21, Day gave credit to commissioners Lambert and Jade Wood for being supportive.
“Doug Lambert has been nothing but professional and respectful,” Day said, “and Jade has been a huge supporter of Gunstock.”
Senior Gunstock Area Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch has supported a hands-off policy to let the management operate the mountain as it sees fit, given that, since Day came on board, the county-owned recreation area has experienced its best years financially and in terms of customer satisfaction. The newer commissioners, however, have said they want to be able to speak directly to any employee as part of their jobs.
According to the July 1 minutes, Lambert asked Kiedaisch, “[W]hat exactly IS the role of a Commissioner? Is it simply to rubber-stamp everything placed before them and then get verbally berated and abused by employees and others at meetings?”
Since Day came to Gunstock, the county-owned facility has increased its annual revenues from $12 million to $18 million. Under Weber, snow sports revenue increased from $800,000 to $1.2 million.
Lambert was quoted as saying that “he had total confidence” in Day’s management of the operation “and would very much like to build trust between him and ALL of the Commissioners.”
Yet everyone with the exception of Kiedaisch voted to have two commissioners “have a conversation with General Manager/President Day to remind him that he is an employee of and works for the GAC.”
Commissioners Wood and Lambert offered to speak with Day, but Chair Peter Ness said he would decide later who to assign to the job. It was Ness and Lambert who later spoke with Day, who said, “I had a great conversation … explaining to me that you guys are the boss; I understand that I answer to you.” Nevertheless, he felt compelled to give his two-weeks’ notice.
After other members of the management team also resigned and left the meeting, Kiedaisch joined them in departing.
Since the changes in the makeup of the commission, Kiedaisch has found himself alienated, saying he has been left out of communications from other commissioners. The July 1 minutes show that Strang chastised him for attempting to arrange a Zoom connection for that meeting, which took place in Gunstock’s Powderkeg Pub.
“As the current Chair of the GAC, Chairman Ness is the only Commissioner who is authorized to call meetings and schedule them,” the minutes state. “Cmr. Kiedaisch is no longer the Chair and was not instructed by Chairman Ness to arrange for a location nor public participation in a non-public meeting.”
Strang made a motion to reprimand Kiedaisch for his “violation” and Lambert seconded the motion.
Wood found the motion to not be constructive and joined Kiedaisch in voting against it, but the motion passed with affirmative votes of the other three commissioners.
In submitting his resignation from the commission on Wednesday, Kiedaisch “made a motion” to have Ness, Strang, and Lambert “show up at 6 o’clock in the morning from now until you can find somebody to replace this talented team, which I highly believe you will not be able to find anybody that would be willing to work with you.”
He continued, “I’m disgusted by you [Ness] and disgusted by Dr. Strang. I’m shocked by Mr. Lambert and I’m sad for Miss Wood to be part of this political shebang. Good luck.”