Four Gilsum officials resign in wake of recent election

Mia Summerson, The Keene Sentinel, N.H.
·4 min read

Mar. 17—GILSUM — Several town officials and employees have resigned over the past week, selectboard Chairman Bart Cushing confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

Selectman Mark Farkas, Administrative Assistant Robin Cantara, Treasurer Kathaline DeMasi and Assistant Town Clerk Janel Miller have all left their positions, said Cushing, who was elected to the selectboard last week and sworn in over the weekend. The resignations came on the heels of Gilsum's annual town meeting last Wednesday and elections the day before.

In addition to serving as administrative assistant, Cantara was also the longtime city clerk until ousted by Betsy Cushing, Bart Cushing's wife, last week. Cantara was elected to a new one-year term as tax collector, a position in which she continues to serve, Bart Cushing said.

"We have a pretty full agenda to fill these positions," Cushing said, "and make sure someone is qualified [to do the job]."

Cushing said he was hoping to achieve a smooth transition and said that both Farkas and Cantara have been cooperative in tying up loose ends before leaving. Farkas did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his decision to step down. Cantara declined to discuss her reason for resigning.

Farkas was elected to the three-member selectboard in 2020 to serve a two-year term.

Miller, who served as Cantara's assistant and was hired by her in December, said she resigned as soon as she heard about the election of the Cushings and Victoria Ayer, who won a seat on the selectboard. She said there have been longstanding issues between Ayer and Cantara and that she doesn't feel comfortable working with the new selectboard members and clerk.

"When I found out that Bart, Vicki and Betsy had all been voted in — the three people who have been gunning for Robin for years ... I decided that's not the type of people I want to work with or work for," Miller said.

Ayer, who deferred comment on the resignations to the selectboard chairman, has been involved in disputes with town officials in the recent past. In January, she filed a complaint in Cheshire County Superior Court about minutes from Gilsum's 2020 town meeting that inaccurately reflected the wording of an article voters approved.

As passed, the article requires the town to publish the full budget detail in its annual report. However, at a Nov. 16 selectboard meeting, Cantara stated the town had received a legal opinion advising against doing so, as voters can vote on the bottom line but not individual items within the budget, according to minutes. Then-selectboard Chairman Tim May acknowledged during this meeting that the language of the article was incorrect as recorded in the minutes.

The case is still pending.

Ayer has also been an extremely vocal critic of several town practices — particularly in the clerk's office — including allowing the clerk to keep vehicle registration fees.

Miller said she thinks the town is in rough shape now, with the newcomers lacking the experience and training to do all that's required. For example, she noted that the town is currently unable to perform vehicle registrations because the new clerk does not have the required N.H. Division of Motor Vehicles training.

Sally Struble, a former selectwoman who lost her spot on the board to Ayer last week, also pointed out this issue, saying the town may have to send its residents to a nearby municipality to register vehicles.

Betsy Cushing said she is currently enrolled in classes so that she can properly handle vehicle registrations in Gilsum and is taking other steps to learn more about the job, such as shadowing employees in the nearby town of Sullivan. She said she didn't have much to say about the resignations, but she said her hope in running for office in the first place was to bring more people into town hall, noting that in the past, the jobs of clerk, administrative assistant and tax collector have all been held by one person.

Bart Cushing acknowledged that there's much work to do but said when things settle down, conditions in the town will be better. He denied he's targeting any employees at town offices.

"They think we're on the war path with everybody," he said. "And that's not the case."

This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Treasurer Kathaline DeMasi's name.

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com.