Despite ethics concerns, council confirms pick to lead N.H. National Guard

  • Guests stand for the singing of the National Anthem during the grand opening and ribbon cutting at the New Hampshire National Guard Training Institute in Pembroke Monday. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Monday, September 18, 2017

The state’s Executive Council voted to confirm Col. David Mikolaities to the role of adjutant general Monday, overriding ethics concerns voiced by one councilor over possible past conflicts of interest.

The 3-2 vote puts Mikolaities, a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, in charge of New Hampshire’s Army and Air National Guard following the retirement of Maj. Gen. William Reddel at the end of the month.

Executive councilors will meet again Thursday to take a second vote to confirm Mikolaities’s promotion from colonel to brigadier general.

Monday’s special meeting was convened after Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, requested a delay on the nomination vote at a meeting Friday, saying that more time was needed to research concerns with Mikolaities’s past oversight efforts and to hear answers from officials.

Among those concerns were a series of contracts approved between the National Guard of New Hampshire and two companies managed by Mikolaities’s brother, Gregg Mikolaities.

Tighe & Bond Inc., an engineering firm in which Gregg Mikolaities is vice president, was awarded about $1,000,000 in contracts from 2012 to present day, according to the state’s Department of Administrative Services. Appledore Engineering Inc., in which Gregg Mikolaities was formerly the principal and owner, received contracts totaling $137,000 from 2010 to 2012, the department said.

As the New Hampshire Guard’s construction and facilities management officer, David Mikolaities oversaw the office that scored and sourced those contracts. Wheeler said the arrangement amounted to a potential conflict of interest.

But National Guard officers, including Reddel, said that Mikolaities had come forward with the potential conflict and had recused himself from all source selection efforts carried out by the office before the sides had agreed.

Maj. Jeffrey Chang, legal counselor for the New Hampshire National Guard, added that the potential conflicts of financial interest were not in violation of federal law, which does not cover brothers.

Chang said the concerns had first come before him in October 2013 from the United States Property and Fiscal Officer within the Guard, but that his subsequent investigation had found no violations.

And Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said that a review had found that Mikolaities’s actions also did not violate state law, even if it created “the appearance of impropriety.”

Wheeler rebutted that whether or not Mikolaities was acting within the law, he found the behavior constituted “a severe lack of judgment.”

“I’m very concerned what he would model to the 3,000 men who would be underneath him, regarding contracts and stuff that he should know better about,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also spent time focusing on a contract the Guard had helped oversee relating to the construction of the new National Guard Training Center in Pembroke, which suffered a range of delays around 2012 and ran over its $23.9 million initial budget by $9 million. The state eventually terminated its contract with the initial contractor in that project, TLT Construction of Wakefield, Mass., over deficiencies in the concrete pour; Wheeler charged that Mikolaities had failed his oversight duties.

Addressing the council, Reddel countered that Mikolaities had reported the issues with that construction process as soon as they arose. Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus said that much of the blame for the failures in that contract lie with administrative services, where many employees had already been terminated or disciplined over that incident, and not with the National Guard.

Other councilors – as well as Gov. Sununu, who first nominated Mikolaities – added that David Mikolaities had not broken any laws, and that the past issues with TLT were not relevant to his nomination.

“I think most of the discussion today was not germane to the nomination we were taking up,” said Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, after the vote. “I think a couple of councilors had a no vote and they were in search for a rationale for that no vote.”

“I really am a little disturbed that the integrity of Col. Mikolaities was impugned with this session because I had no question about his integrity or his character,” Pappas continued.

Voting in favor of the confirmation were councilors Pappas; Andru Volinsky, D-Concord; and Russell Prescott, R-Kingston; Councilors Wheeler and Joseph Kenney, R-Union, voted against.

In a statement after the vote, Gov. Chris Sununu lauded the nominee, and complimented the state officials that had answered questions with “unequivocal clarity to a myriad of questions.”

“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,” Sununu said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)