Grafton county delegation leader says hands are tied on ousting register of deeds

Grafton County Register of Deeds Kelley Monahan speaks at the Grafton County Primary Candidates Forum in Canaan, N.H., on Aug. 27, 2018. Monahan faces a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Liz Gesler. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Grafton County Register of Deeds Kelley Monahan speaks at the Grafton County Primary Candidates Forum in Canaan, N.H., on Aug. 27, 2018. Monahan faces a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Liz Gesler. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-17-2023 7:46 PM

NORTH HAVERHILL — The head of Grafton County’s delegation of state representatives said he would need a “formal recommendation” from the county’s Board of Commissioners before he could ask members to take up the issue of removing the county’s Register of Deeds from elected office.

George Sykes, D-Lebanon, chair of the Grafton County’s 26-member delegation of state representatives, confirmed delegation members received a letter earlier this month from the board relating various workplace issues they and county employees have experienced in interactions with Register of Deeds Kelley Monahan.

The letter said the board has received complaints over the years in regard to Monahan’s behavior, which culminated last month when Jim Oakes, the chief of the maintenance department at the Grafton County government complex in North Haverhill, went to court seeking a restraining order against Monahan after she allegedly made a threatening comment about Oates to one of his department’s employees.

Grafton County Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein dismissed the request, ruling that Oakes, based upon the information he provided in his petition, did not present sufficient evidence that Monahan posed a “credible and imminent threat” to his safety.

Sykes, in an interview with the Valley News, said the board would need to make a “formal recommendation” to the delegation and cite specific examples of how Monahan is “negligent” in her official duties as register of deeds — which is the only ground upon which the delegation can act — in order to take up the issue and consider removing her from office. Under New Hampshire state law, the power to oust an elected county official resides only with the county’s elected representatives.

Sykes said as far as he is aware, that would be an unprecedented action in Grafton County.

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“At the moment, in my mind, this is a personnel matter,” Sykes said, explaining that “negligence” of duties is the only reason the delegation can vote to remove an elected county official from office. Based on the information conveyed in the board’s Aug. 3 letter to delegation members, he said, “I don’t see that in this instance.”

“The ball is back in (the board’s) court,” he said.

The Grafton County commissioners were going to discuss what might be the next steps in “investigating” Monahan’s removal at last Tuesday’s regular weekly board meeting but instead had pushed the matter back to next Tuesday’s meeting, said Wendy Piper, chair of the three-member board.

Piper said the board will be discussing “another employee complaint” about Monahan and “once again we asked the register to meet with us” but Monahan “has written back that she won’t do that.”

Piper said Monahan “appears to be competent” in her duties as register, “although she’s not around a lot” and “the deputies do most of the work” in the office.

Rather, Piper said, “we just have a very toxic environment created by this one person,” adding that it has been an issue even when the board comprised different commissioners.

Piper said the board was even moved to approve installation of a camera outside the office of the county administrator so that the administrator “can see anybody coming down the hall.” The camera was installed about three years ago, Piper said, after the county administrator showed a letter she received from Monahan that “very much concerned us” and contained “personal comments” and allegations that “did not fit anyone else’s perception of reality.

Monahan, who was first elected to office in 2010 and has been reelected five times since, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

But in other statements Monahan has made in her own defense, she acknowledges that she has clashed with other employees at the county government campus, but she contends that has more to do with her status as an outsider who challenges authority.

“I questioned actions of this county from my first days,” Monahan wrote in her written statement submitted to the court in reply to Oakes’ attempt to secure a restraining order against her. “That is the problem the administration has always had against me. I question everything. ... The gaslighting that goes on in this county is a common occurrence and has truly surpassed crisis level.”

Sykes, the county delegation chair, said that if the delegation receives a formal recommendation from the board that seeks to remove Monahan from office, then he will first bring it to the delegation’s nine-member executive committee to review and decide whether to present it to the full delegation to vote upon.

The process is one the delegation has never faced before and will likely be a subject itself debated among members, he said.

“I would characterize this as fairly uncharted waters here,” Sykes said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.