All photos by Ronnie Abbott
I attended the Gunstock Area Commission (GAC) meeting last night as a member of the public. I sat in the back of the room with my camera as I tend to do at all the local meetings, at least the ones that allow photographers. I’ll tell you there was an extremely calm moment before the meeting began where people are milling about and conversing. As I spoke to Sheriff Bill Wright of the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department about his amazing job raising over $3,000 for the Child Advocacy Centers, we were turned around by a feeling like a storm cloud was passing overhead, and the calm simply escaped the room.
The meeting was beginning and the faces of the crowd changed from happy to dismay in a few mere seconds. One could overhear the murmuring of statements like “oh no” and “why would he do this?” Like a scene taken straight out of a horror movie, my eyes shifted to the front of the room to see a man bringing a seat up to the front, and placed it next to a Commissioner Jade Wood. It was the disgraced ex-GAC commissioner Dr. David E. Strang.
Dr. Strang left the GAC of his own volition back in August and that resignation was previously accepted by the Delegation and upheld by a Court mandate. It was quite out of order for a member of the general public, being the only standing Dr. Strang had at this meeting, to decide it would be a good idea to pull his own seat out and put it up next to the GAC Commissioners to act as if he were attempting to remain in his former position. All the while, we witnessed Representative Mike Silvia filming the encounter. At this time, it is unclear to me if Representative Sylvia was filming for himself or to help provide evidence for one of the “many lawsuits” he was quoted mentioning later in the night. Representative Sylvia was not only recording the GAC meeting but was seen on many occasions filming the general public at the meeting, including their private conversations. It felt like Representative Sylvia was trying hard to be the creepiest guy in the room.
After the audit firm was done giving their presentation, Dr. Strang attempted to cut into the meeting to ask his own questions. This allowed GAC Chairman Doug Lambert to pick up his gavel in disgust and declared this member of the public out of order for talking during the Commissioner’s business and was encouraged to wait until the public comment portion had begun. Dr. Strang attempted to argue his point but was again rebuffed and reminded that he was not permitted to speak until public comment.
For the rest of the time, Dr. Strang sat in the corner playing with his laptop kind of reminding me of a reprimanded child that still got to keep his electronics. Soon thereafter, Commissioner Jade Wood asked the Chair if he would please instruct Dr. Strang to return to public seating as she did not feel comfortable with him sitting so close and behind her. Chairman Doug Lambert followed through with this request. The disgraced Dr. Strang lent himself no favors by attempting to continue the argument a few more times leading to another admonishment from the Commissioners again reminding him that he would be permitted to speak during the public comment period. Begrudgingly, Dr. Strang removed himself to the public area to stand with the filming Representative Mike Silvia.
The meeting returned to normal now that people were clearly feeling more comfortable with the situation. The typical business was completed without any further issues. You could feel the tension grow as the time for public comment grew near with everyone in the room wondering what Dr. Strang would say.
Public comment portion then opened with Representative Mike Silvia, who if you’ll remember made very loud and continuous accusations about the actions of the Management Team and Commissioners, this time made a relatively uneventful statement pointing out a few of the things that the GAC should look at to make changes due to the audit results. Those results, as had been presented earlier in the evening, showed that there was no maleficence. The audit’s results also provided recommendations that the GAC should take a more active role in managing some of the more expensive financial decisions using Gunstock a municipality as opposed to a for-profit business. These comments caught the disdain of newly selected Commissioner Denise Conroy who seemed to have issues with the perception, stating that she felt it was not truly a municipality and not preferring the auditors recommendations.
Then came the big moment everyone had been waiting for and the situation reminded me of people seeing the weatherman say a huge storm is coming with everyone boarding up windows and running to get milk and bread. Much like one of the many weather forecast it was quite wrong as Dr. Strang had already run for the hills and left the meeting. Finally one further public comment was a comedic one, where it was requested that the Commissioners nail down exactly where the public is supposed to sit in the bylaws of the GAC.
Ronnie Abbott is a local photographer and founder of FYP Media – facebook.com/fypmedianh
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