Concord — February 3, 2006 — Gov. John Lynch announced yesterday that he will ask George Bald, who led the Department of Resources and Economic from 1998 to 2004, to come back to the department as its next commissioner.
Bald, 55, left halfway through a four-year term to become executive director of the Pease Development Authority and was replaced by Sean O’Kane. On Tuesday, O’Kane announced that he would not seek another term because he is pursuing job in the private sector. Bald said yesterday that he hadn’t intended on coming back to the department. But, he said, he wanted the opportunity to work on statewide issues with Lynch.
“In some ways, being gone two years is a very short time,” he said. “In some ways, two years is a very long time.”
Should he be appointed, Bald said he’ll start getting acquainted with the department again and will be ready to work on the first day. Pamela Walsh, Lynch’s spokeswoman, said the governor liked what Bald did with the department in the past.
“He has a proven record,” she said. “He served with distinction as commissioner, and he had the attributes the governor wants in a DRED commissioner.”
Bald said there wasn’t an exact phone call in which he was offered the position and accepted. Instead, he and Lynch have been talking about the possibility of him returning as it became clear that O’Kane would not continue in the job.
In a statement released yesterday, Lynch hailed Bald’s ability to bring people together. During his time as commissioner, Bald worked to reopen paper mills in Gorham and Berlin, helped create Umbagog State Park and facilitated the state’s purchase of land from International Paper. He also oversaw the development of the state’s first plans for telecommunications and economic development.
Bald has held other jobs in government. From 1978 to 1984, he was the mayor of Somersworth. He later worked as Rochester city manager.
From 1994 to 1998, he was the economic development director for the Pease Development Authority, the group charged with redeveloping the former air force base as a commercial engine. When he left his job as commissioner two years ago, it was to return to Pease.
“George has been doing a great job at Pease, but New Hampshire needs his talents back at the Department of Resources and Economic Development,” Lynch said in the statement.
Executive councilors interviewed yesterday declined to say how they would vote on the nomination, but generally spoke favorably of Bald and of the way he managed the department the first time around.
“He kept the place going,” said Councilor Ruth Griffin, a Republican from Portsmouth.
Councilor Ray Burton, a Bath Republican, said Bald was an outstanding commissioner, but he wants to hear how Bald would weigh in on how to save the state’s paper industry and what to do with the state parks system, which is struggling financially, before giving him his vote.
Councilor Debora Pignatelli said she likes the work experience on Bald’s resume. She said she wants to know more about where Bald thinks the department is headed and how he would balance the interests of business and natural resources.
Councilors Peter Spaulding and Ray Wieczorek could not be reached for comment yesterday evening.
One issue that Bald may have to deal with if appointed is the proposed expansion of Mount Sunapee Resort. Lynch has tabled a plan to add 175 acres of public park to the resort, which would allow owners Tim and Diane Mueller to build slope-side condominiums in Goshen. But Bald’s term could outlast Lynch’s, and a new governor could revisit the issue.
Goshen Planning Board Chairman John Wirkkala said Bald never weighed in publicly on what he thought of the expansion plans when he was commissioner. He also never answered the town’s request to have regional impact studies done or to include the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission in the state’s decision process.
Jim Roche, who became president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire about a year ago, said he has been impressed with Bald’s ability to build relationships in the few times he has met him.
Bald’s reputation as commissioner and at Pease, where he has played a role in one of the most successful transformations of a former military base in the country, seems to promise that he will be a strong business advocate, Roche said.
Lynch must formally present the nomination to the council before the councilors hold a hearing on it. The next council meeting is Feb. 8.