COVID-19 Prep: Volinsky asks Sununu to call emergency council session

CONCORD – Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky has asked Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to call an emergency session of the Executive Council to help deal with the COVID-19 epidemic.

Volinsky, D-Concord, a candidate for governor, also asked to be included in Sununu’s public health conference calls and suggested the other four councilors may want to be included as well. Three of the other four councilors reached by phone Monday said they are prepared for such a meeting and Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, couldn’t immediately be reached.

Sununu didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Please schedule an emergency meeting of the Executive Council so that we may fulfill our constitutional duty of providing advice to you,” Volinsky wrote to Sununu. “We have a wide array of experience, both in and out of government, that could be helpful to the state as you work through the coronavirus emergency.”

Volinsky pointed to Councilors Gatsas and Russ Prescott of Kingston, both Republicans, as very experienced businessmen. Councilor Mike Cryans, D-Hanover, has vast experience in county government, Volinsky said, and Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, has social service and legislative experience.

“I could be of assistance with legal issues,” Volinsky said. “Each of us is aware of the concerns being voiced by our constituents and would gladly share these with you.”

Prescott said: “I am ready whenever the governor calls.” It is important to remember, however, that the governor has broad powers to take care of the safety of the state now that he has declared a State of Emergency, Prescott said.

Prescott said the council voted at its meeting on Wednesday to accept $5 million in federal funds to fight the epidemic.

“We discussed it when given a briefing on Wednesday. You have to realize this is a fast-moving issue and it is obvious the governor has worked hard on it already,” Prescott said. “I am ready. This is a serious situation.”

Prescott didn’t see the request as politically motivated. Democrats hold the council majority 3 to 2.

“I would not think Volinsky would politicize this,” Prescott said.

Prescott said there are many organizations taking prudent steps to curb meetings when they can be done by Skype or phone. His business supplies water treatment systems to plumbers and has been told customers will not call for service now except in an emergency.

Volinsky said he has heard a number of concerns from constituents worried about their health and economic security in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

Volinsky asked Sununu whether testing would be free for the 77,000 Granite Staters who do not have health insurance, how quickly people can expect unemployment benefits, and whether utilities will be prevented from being turned off. He also wanted to know what support small businesses can expect if they need to close temporarily.

He also asked when the state will prohibit group meetings to limit a community spread of the virus and whether there will be affordable and adequate childcare for those who need it as well as what the state will do to support school children who depend on free or reduced lunch.

Councilor Pignatelli said, “Our job is to advise the governor.” One of the 13 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in New Hampshire lives in Nashua in Hillsborough County. Three live in Grafton County and nine in Rockingham County, according to the state website.

Pignatelli said Nashua businesses are concerned about how they will support their employees as more restaurants and businesses close temporarily.

“I certainly wouldn’t object to a meeting,” Pignatelli said, adding it would be better by phone or online. She praised state employees, especially those working at the Department of Health and Human Services for doing an “outstanding” job.

Councilor Cryans, said, “If I can be of any help – this is certainly not political between Democrats and Republicans – l’m more than willing to participate if the governor calls us into session. We all have different life experiences.”