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Confirmation of National Guard leader delayed for inquiry into handling of $7M in cost overruns

State House Bureau

September 13. 2017 3:00PM

MANCHESTER – Col. David J. Mikolaities was viewed as a shoo-in to be confirmed as the next leader of the New Hampshire National Guard, but the Executive Council on Wednesday voted to delay his confirmation after Republican Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, raised concerns about the colonel’s role in an ill-fated construction project.

The Manchester-born combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was nominated by Gov. Chris Sununu to replace Maj. Gen. William Reddel, who plans to retire Sept. 30 having served in the post since 2009. The U.S. Senate even approved Mikolaities’ promotion to brigadier general, which would occur once he starts his new position.

The appointment hit a roadblock Wednesday as the Executive Council met at the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester.

“We need a little more time with this nominee,” said Wheeler. “This is going to be a 12-year appointment, and I am starting to get letters of concern about this nominee and would like a little more time to look into why the project he was in charge of was over-spent by $7 million.”

The project Wheeler was alluding to, the Pembroke National Guard Training Center, opened in December of last year after a troubled path to completion. Construction began in 2011, was scheduled for completion by 2013, but halted in 2012 over concerns about the quality of work by contractor TLT Construction of Wakefield, Mass.

The state terminated the contract with the company and hired Eckman Construction of Bedford to finish the job in 2014.

Democratic Councilor Chris Pappas of Manchester called for a vote, and said the issue raised by Wheeler was discussed in the public hearing on the Mikolaities nomination.

“We had a robust public hearing and those questions were asked and they were answered,” he said. “I see tabling today as just a delaying tactic designed not to really get at any additional information we don’t already have at our disposal.”

Republican councilors Russell Prescott of Kingston and Joseph Kenney of Union both expressed support for Mikolaities, but said in deference to Wheeler’s concerns they could support a delay.

After a brief non-public meeting with the Attorney General, Sununu withdrew the confirmation request.

“I am going to withdraw the request for confirmation pending a special meeting on Monday,” he said, “when we will take up the confirmation in order to allow for additional questions to be answered.”

Sununu instructed the Commissioner of Administrative Services, the Adjutant General and Mikolaities to attend “so we can proceed with the confirmation at that time.”

Volinsky took aim at Mikolaities’ anonymous critics who’ve been contacting councilors.

“Like Councilor Wheeler, I have been getting letters about this confirmation,” he said. “They are generally form letters not signed. Just for the record, while I appreciate some of the difficulty coming forward to raise issues I am generally unimpressed by form letters that are anonymous challenging the integrity and character of someone like Mr. Mikolaities.”

After the meeting Sununu called Mikolaities “an absolute hero in the state of New Hampshire” and predicted he will be confirmed.

UPDATE: The special meeting of the council to vote on the nomination of Col. Mikolaities has been scheduled for Monday, 10 a.m., in Executive Council Chambers at the State House.

The Dec. 2016 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the New Hampshire National Guard's palatial new training facility in Pembroke. Taking part in the ceremony were, from left, Maj. Gen. Bill Reddel, the adjutant general for the state's National Guard; Brig. Gen. Shawn O'Brien; U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH; Bud Fitch, the legal counsel for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH; and Corey Garry, the deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH. (Melissa Proulx/Union Leader Correspondent)

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