Library Trustees: $1,920,000 Library Addition Warrant Article for Town Meeting 2018

The library trustees sent out the following press release today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TUFTONBORO LIBRARY TRUSTEES ANNOUNCE DECISION ON BUILDING PROJECT

At their regular monthly meeting on November 8th, Tuftonboro Free Library Trustees Gordon Hunt, Paul Matlock, and Mary Ann Murray voted unanimously to put the proposed plan for an addition and renovations to the existing library on the 2018 Town Warrant.  The focus changed from a new building to an addition late this spring, when Tuftonboro resident, Raymond “Skip” Hurt, presented a model to Selectmen and Trustees that he believed would provide the necessary space at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers.

In response to this citizen initiative, the Trustees directed SMP Architecture to review Hurt’s plan for feasibility, provide additional options for expansion, refine and develop the approved plan to the Schematic Design phase, and work with Bauen Corporation, the project’s construction management firm, to provide a preliminary cost estimate.  SMP also provided a new topographical map overlay demonstrating that wetlands areas delineated by the original survey in 2006 were inexactly located, and so clearing the way for an addition.

The preliminary cost estimate for the 5,000 square foot addition plus all necessary renovations to the existing building is $1.92 million.  Considering that the projected cost for a new building is $2.65 million, the Trustees believe that their decision to support the proposed addition is in the best interest of the town.  There is currently a combined total of just under $700,000 in cash on hand in the established Library Capital Reserve Fund and the privately supported Library Building Fund, and just under $100,000 in additional private pledges, contingent upon approval of the project at Town Meeting on March 14th.  The TFL Capital Campaign Committee and the Friends of the Library will continue with fundraising, in an effort to reduce taxpayer costs even further.

Plans for the proposed addition can be viewed at the library, and on the library website, tuftonborolibrary.org, where there is also an animated “fly-around” view of the exterior.

The fly around video is here:

Here is the interior floor plan (click to make larger):

And here is the site plan (click to make larger):

 

Paul Zimmerman Implies He May File Suit Against Tuftonboro Over Decision by Zoning Board

In a letter to Mark Howard, chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, local developer Paul Zimmerman today* implied if the town does not reimburse him for $22,586.00 in expenses he may sue the town. Zimmerman incurred the expenses developing site plans to build a self-storage facility on the property next to the fire station at 181 Middle Road (Route 109A). Continue reading “Paul Zimmerman Implies He May File Suit Against Tuftonboro Over Decision by Zoning Board”

Taxpayers’ Bill for Selectmen’s Folly Climbs to $20,930.87

The selectmen lost their lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me but they’re still paying their attorney, Richard Sager for it using taxpayer money. Sager’s invoice from September includes $1,884.75 for services related to the selectmen’s lawsuit. This brings the total that the selectmen have paid to Sager for the lawsuit to $18,649.62. The selectmen also paid $2,281.25 to Patrick Harvie to give “expert testimony” at the court hearing in June.

That brings the total amount of taxpayer money that the selectmen have spent trying to make it more difficult for the public to access public documents to $20,930.87.

The selectmen have spent such a large amount of money on their failed lawsuit that even Sager seems to think it’s too much. Starting in September, Sager reduced his rate and his paralegal’s rate — for the services related to the Right to Know case only — to 60% of his regular fee, which is $175 per hour. (That is the prevailing municipal rate for attorneys in this area.) [See update below.] Sager’s regular rate for his paralegal is $100 per hour. He reduced those rates to $105 and $60.

If Sager had charged his regular fees for the work related to the lawsuit in September then his invoice for those services would have been $3,141.25 not $1,884.75.

I appreciate that Sager reduced his rates (for work related to the lawsuit) in September. However, the bulk of the work his office performed in that month was redacting of emails. Even at his reduced rates, that’s an incredible waste of taxpayer money considering the selectmen could have had the town office staff, who we already pay, do that work at no extra cost. Instead they chose to have Sager do the redaction work.

If the selectmen are going to continue to waste taxpayer money, I suggest Sager revert to his normal rates. Why should he take less than his normal fee? I don’t blame him for charging for his services.

Update: The post originally states “That is the prevailing rate for attorneys in this area.” But I updated it to include be the municipal rate after Sager had this to say on Facebook in response to this post:

Oh, Max. More complaining. Much Ledoux about nothing. And not accurate once again. So here goes. (1) I reduced my rate by 40% for the purpose of redacting emails because the Town didn’t have the resources available to do it. My rate for municipalities is $175/hour. (2) You are incorrect (again) when you say $175/hour “is the prevailing rate for attorneys in this area.” Wrong. That’s a prevailing rate (or even a little low) for attorneys doing municipal work. Call around and you will see the prevailing hourly rate in this area for non-municipal work ranges around $275-$300/hour. Head south and it’s in the $350-450 range. (3) I didn’t just decide to charge a lower rate for email redaction in September 2017. I offered that to the selectmen in 2016 when you made your request for 13,000 emails. So, when are you going to inform me and the folks on this Forum about your decision whether you agree to sit down and meet? Just don’t ignore the invitation, man up! If you don’t want to participate, say so (and why would be interesting). If your answer is yes, let’s set it up.

Sager has never substantiated the “13,000” emails claim, although he throws it at me often as if it’s a lot of emails (it’s not). In court documents, the selectmen’s administrative secretary, Karen Koch, stated there were between 740 and 760 emails responsive to Bob McWhirter’s Right to Know request. My Right to Know request has so far produced a few hundred emails, at most. (However, the selectmen are refusing to provide me all of the emails that were the subject of the lawsuit.) Further, Karen stated in the documents that were filed with the court that the selectmen’s counsel (Sager) had informed her that the number of emails was not relevant.

Karen Koch Suggestions Were “Potentially Violative of 91-A”

In an interesting line item on his September invoice, the selectmen’s attorney Richard Sager billed Tuftonboro taxpayers $73.50 for “Email from/to Karen with details on the redaction process (and why her suggestions are more time consuming or potentially violative of 91-A).

It would be interesting to find out what Karen, the selectmen’s administrative secretary, suggested that Sager thought was “potentially violative of 91-A.” RSA 91-A is the Right to Know law, and the selectmen have spent much of the past year, as well as more than $20,000, attempting to make it harder for the public to gain access to public documents.

This is not the first “suggestion” Karen has made that can be considered “potentially violative of 91-A.”

In June of 2016, Karen Koch suggested in an email to Bob McWhirter, that she would not comply with the Right to Know law if she didn’t like the way requests were made. Karen wrote:

I will be glad to respond to legitimate Right to Know requests that are requested in a respectful manner. If requests are neither legitimate Right to Know requests or asked in an aggressive manner, I will refrain from responding. [Emphasis added.]

There is no “ask politely” requirement in RSA 91-A. If Karen ever did refuse to respond to a Right to Know request because, in her subjective opinion, it was “asked in an aggressive manner,” then that would be concerning — and “potentially violative of 91-A.”

Selectmen Set Property Tax Rate for 2018


The selectmen (Lloyd Wood, Bill Marcussen, and Chip Albee) lowered the local tax rate from $2.91 to $2.73 on Monday. However, Tuftonboro taxpayers’ total tax burden will rise 3.3% to $10.77 from last year’s rate of $10.43.

The tax rate is applied per $1,000 in assessed property value, so if your property is valued at $100,000, you will owe $1,077 for tax year 2018.

The rise in the overall rate is due entirely to a 20.5% increase in the tax rate for the Governor Wentworth Regional School District.

The selectmen were able to lower the local rate by taking $350,000 from the undesignated fund (money that was already raised through taxes in prior years but not spent). They are not lowering the tax rate in connection to a corresponding reduction to the town’s budget.

In addition to the local tax, the $10.77 total 2018 tax rate includes:

  • $4.23 for local education (Governor Wentworth Regional School District)
  • $2.43 for state education (UNH system, etc.)
  • $1.38 for Carroll County

The tax rate for local education is increasing 20.5% from $3.51 in 2017, while state education is decreasing 4.3% from $2.54 and Carroll County is also decreasing 6.1% from $1.47.

Annual Holiday Festival Weekend Is November 11-12

The 22nd annual Tuftonboro Holiday Festival will be November 11 & 12. The Festival is a weekend in Tuftonboro during which residents share their interests, creations and holiday spirit in their homes and businesses. On offer will be clothing, jewelry, soaps, wreaths, baked goods, and more.

Local businesses the Garden Cape, For Every Season, Full Moon Fashions, and GeezLouise will also be open on Friday (November 8) from 5-8PM for a preview of the weekend.

Follow the Tuftonboro Holiday Festival Facebook page for more updates.

Selectmen Continue to Impede Right to Know

At their October 16, 2017, meeting the board of selectmen (Lloyd Wood, Bill Marcussen, and Chip Albee) discussed adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to Right to Know requests. The Granite State News reported:

[Selectman Chip Albee] suggested that members of the public seeking information that is not readily available fill out a form stating their specific request, which will then be considered by the board.

According to the draft minutes of the meeting:

The Selectmen discussed handling of Right to Know requests. If information or a document is not readily available, a proper Right to Know request is to be submitted to the Selectmen for their review before information is provided.

I sent the minutes to David Saad, the president of Right to Know NH* and a member of the recently convened Legislative Commission to Study Processes to Resolve Right-to-Know Complaints, to get his perspective. David wrote back, saying: “Nothing in the Right to Know law requires that you fill out a form, nor does it require the requesting parties to identify themselves. The selectmen should not take any action that would defeat or delay disclosure required by the Right to Know Law.”

According to RSA 91-A:4 IV, a “proper Right to Know request” is merely a “reasonably described” request:

Each public body or agency shall, upon request for any governmental record reasonably described, make available for inspection and copying any such governmental record within its files when such records are immediately available for such release. If a public body or agency is unable to make a governmental record available for immediate inspection and copying, it shall, within 5 business days of request, make such record available, deny the request in writing with reasons, or furnish written acknowledgment of the receipt of the request and a statement of the time reasonably necessary to determine whether the request shall be granted or denied. [Emphasis added.]

The selectmen have no statutory authority to determine what a “proper” Right to Know request is or is not.

Unfortunately, the Tuftonboro selectmen’s secretary, Karen Koch, has also taken it upon herself to improperly interpret the law.

In June of 2016, Karen Koch wrote an email to Bob McWhirter, responding to a question he’d asked. Karen wrote:

I will be glad to respond to legitimate Right to Know requests that are requested in a respectful manner. If requests are neither legitimate Right to Know requests or asked in an aggressive manner, I will refrain from responding. [Emphasis added.]

There is no “ask politely” requirement in RSA 91-A. In an ideal world, we would all be polite. However, if Karen ever did refuse to respond to a Right to Know request because, in her subjective opinion, it was “asked in an aggressive manner,” then that would be concerning — and clearly illegal.

In fact, Karen did “refrain from responding” to a Right to Know request I made on December 12, 2016, and it’s not clear why. My request was for emails concerning the cancelled auction of town-owned properties that was to have been conducted on October 15, 2016, by the selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager. Although RSA 91-A:4-IV, as quoted above, requires a response within five business days, I never received any acknowledgement whatsoever from the selectmen or from Karen. On October 4, 2017, I renewed my request. The selectmen have not yet provided me with the emails.

*I am a member of RTKNH. I joined after the selectmen sued me last year when I made a Right to Know request.

Update: I updated the first paragraph of this post because the selectmen have not yet made any decision about requiring the use of a form for Right to Know requests, but instead discussed it.

New Hampshire Moves One Big Step Closer to Enforcing Right to Know

From Right to Know New Hampshire:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Concord, NH
Nov. 2, 2017 –

Citizens in New Hampshire currently have little recourse but to resort to the courts to enforce their right to know when public bodies withhold public information or violate Open Meeting laws. Today New Hampshire took a big step forward in rectifying a situation that has ranked us 49th in the country for public access to information by the Center for Public Integrity.

On Tuesday October 31, 2017, at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, the Legislative Commission to Study Processes to Resolve Right-to-Know Complaints finalized its report for submission to the House, Senate, and Governor. It recommended the establishment of a Citizens’ Right to Know Appeals Commission to oversee an ombudsman. The report states “In lieu of filing a petition in the Superior Court under Chapter 91-A, the citizen may appeal to [the] Commission whose administrator will immediately refer the matter to the Ombudsman.” The ombudsman “acquires and reviews materials, conducts interviews if necessary, and issues a ruling within 30 days following receipt of the parties’ submissions…”

Right to Know New Hampshire President, David Saad, was one of the 13 study commission members. “I’m very pleased with the outcome of the study commission. New Hampshire very much needs a way of resolving right to know complaints without putting citizens through the cost and burden of taking their case to Superior Court. I urge the legislature to support the legislation that will follow this report and I firmly believe that the costs of an ombudsman will be more than offset by savings to the citizens, court system, and public bodies.”

Mr. Saad went on to praise the conscientious work of all the members of the study commission. “Under the leadership of Chairman Senator Bob Giuda, all members worked very well together as we were united in our mission to develop a process to help citizens resolve right to know grievances faster, easier, and cheaper. We had very productive debates which led, I believe, to a promising outcome, if it passes in the legislature.”

Right to Know NH is a non-partisan association of citizens committed to advancing government transparency.

I joined Right to Know NH after the Tuftonboro selectmen sued me when I made a Right to Know request. The selectmen ended up spending around $20,000 in taxpayers’ money trying to make it harder for citizens to get access to public records, but they lost their lawsuit.

Pictured: members of the Legislative Commission to Study Processes to Resolve Right-to-Know Complaints.