Council approves NH military nominee despite ethical concerns
CONCORD (AP) — A New Hampshire council voted on Monday to confirm Republican Gov. Chris Sununu's nominee to lead the state's Army and Air National Guard despite ethical concerns.
The Executive Council voted 3-2 to approve Col. David Mikolaities as the next adjutant general. Sununu temporarily withdrew a request for a motion to confirm Mikolaities at last week's council meeting at the request of Republican Councilor David Wheeler, of Milford.
"An exemplary guardsman and an American hero, there is no better choice to lead New Hampshire's National Guard than Colonel Mikolaities, and I am proud that he was confirmed today to serve as the next Adjutant General of the State of New Hampshire," Sununu said in a statement.
Mikolaities, of Portsmouth, is a member of the Army National Guard and serves as the construction and facilities management officer. His career includes multiple tours in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Wheeler, who joined Republican Councilor Joseph Kenney in voting against the nomination, said he received information about a possible conflict of interest involving more than $1 million in contracts that the National Guard awarded to the engineering firm where Mikolaities' brother, Gregg, works. Among his concerns was that the National Guard's contracting officer was not aware that Mikolaities had a brother working for the winning bidder, Tighe & Bond Inc., until after contracts were approved. The National Guard had considered rebidding the contracts due to the relationship between the two brothers but decided it wasn't necessary.
Wheeler had wanted to delay the vote over Mikolaities' handling of the contracts as well as millions of dollars in cost overruns involving the construction of the National Guard Regional Training Institute and Barracks.
Officials with the state's Administrative Services said Monday that their agency, not the National Guard, was to blame for the overruns involving problems with a contractor. In fact, it was the National Guard that spotted the problems.
"There is enough here to say, whoa, this guy is going to be general. This is a severe lapse of judgment at the very least," Wheeler said after the vote. "We have at best conflicting information about who knew what when. Until that is cleared up, my vote has to be no."
Kelley said the bidding controversy could tarnish Mikolaities' ability to lead the National Guard.
"What I'm concerned about is that there will be a cloud there that won't go away whether it's perception reality, fact or fiction or whatever it is," he said, adding that the National Guard should put in place strict guidelines and policies when it comes to "any perception of conflict of interest."
But the state's Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said his office had examined the case over the weekend and determined that David Mikolaities hadn't violated the state's ethic law and that there was "no concern under state law."
National Guard Maj. Jeffrey Chang confirmed that Mikolaities had recused himself when the contracts were being considered.
Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn, the director of public affairs for the New Hampshire National Guard, defended Mikolaities and said he is "well respected by both our soldiers and air men and is well regarded among his peers." "It's a shame that Col. Mikolaities has had to defend himself against thinly veiled accusations from anonymous sources," he said. "His record of service to New Hampshire and the nation speaks for itself."