Tuftonboro Selectmen May Have Unintentionally Broken New Hampshire Law

At the May 9 meeting of the Tuftonboro Board of Selectmen, I expressed my concern that they may have unintentionally broken the law by voting on April 25 to pay the bill for maintenance work done on town cemeteries.

There is a separate (and to me less concerning) issue of whether there is a contract between the town and the landscaper who did the work. The Granite State News has reported inaccurately for the past two weeks that there is an “ongoing” contract and a contract that was “signed in 2010.” But the document from 2010 has no signatures on it and therefore was never at any point a contract. Further, this unsigned document has an expiration date of April 15, 2011. Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist acknowledged that there is no contract at the May 9 meeting (I also gave a copy of the document to reporter Elissa Paquette). I don’t know the landscaper and am not making any judgment whatsoever about him. This is not about him or the good work he has done for the town.

This is about the selectmen’s apparent decision to overstep their bounds. The landscaper submitted an invoice on April 8, after the cemetery trustees’ April meeting. The next trustee meeting was scheduled for May 3, the first time they’d be able to review the invoice. Sue Weeks told the selectmen at their April 25 meeting that the cemetery trustees were going to review the invoice on May 3. It is not unreasonable for contractors to wait less than 30 days to be paid on an invoice. (Many invoices I’ve seen ask for payment within 60 days.) The trustees had not left the bill unpaid; they had simply not had a chance to review it yet.

Selectmen Sundquist stated on May 9 that no trustee had stepped forward to say “that is our responsibility.” This is not accurate: Sue Weeks said on April 25, “The trustees are responsible for the cemetery maintenance.”

The selectmen knew that the cemetery maintenance was the responsibility of the cemetery trustees, knew that the trustees were meeting the following week, and knew that the trustees intended to review the landscaper’s invoice and pay him.

By state law, the selectmen are not authorized to make payments for the maintenance of town cemeteries—unless I am misreading the law. But I am not a legal expert, so I have asked the selectmen to review the statutes and state for the record whether the selectmen have the authority to override other boards.

This may seem picayune, but it’s important. Selectman Lloyd Wood has stated in recent meetings that the town enjoys a good reputation with the state. But would the state continue to hold us in high esteem if the selectmen were to break the law? It seems that the selectmen not only took power from the cemetery trustees, who are elected by us to maintain the cemeteries; they also took power from the Town Meeting. Only Town Meeting can vote to make the selectmen trustees of the cemetery trust funds. I’m concerned the selectmen have inadvertently opened up the town for liability in a lawsuit. Even if it were not a violation of state law for the selectmen to usurp the power of another board, it would be setting a bad precedent. If the current board of selectmen can override the cemetery trustees, a future board of selectmen could override, say, the library trustees.

We have separation of powers at the federal, state, and local levels for a reason. We put systems of checks and balances into place so that we don’t have to rely on the good intentions of our fellow human beings, who are, like all of us, imperfect. James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

I don’t think the selectmen intended to break the law, but I fear that they did.

The Founders’ Fears

There are undoubtedly many reasons that the American Revolution succeeded and the French Revolution failed. Indeed, history shows that most revolutions end in violence and tyranny. But one reason must surely be that while other revolutions sought to remake man and human nature, the American Revolution explicitly grappled with man’s unchanging nature. In his editorial last week, the editor disdainfully dismissed the Founders’ concerns about mob rule as “well-worn.”

If the editor will forgive me for quoting some more “well-worn” folderol, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.”

But the Founders were just as worried about minority factions as they were about majority factions. What is a king if not a minority of one? Madison defined factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

This is why the Constitution intentionally seeks to pit factions against one another — so that neither the minority nor the majority will be able to tyrannize the other. The House of Representatives is elected directly by the people. The Senate was originally elected by state legislatures, themselves elected by the people of the states. The president is elected by electors, originally selected by the state legislatures, later by popular election. The Supreme Court justices are appointed by senators and the president. At every step, the legitimacy of our constitutional Republic stems from the people, whose passions are filtered through layers of representative government.

The ideas of our founders may be well-worn, but they have sufficed.

Spending More Is Still Spending More

In their editorial on March 31, the editors of the Granite State News wrote of the county budget that it “included reducing the budget for the fishing expedition known as the forensic audit from $200,000 down to about $140,000 – still a waste of taxpayers’ money, but less of a waste.” I share the editors’ frustration when it comes to wasting taxpayer money.

In a previous letter to the Grunter, I wrote about budget maneuvers by which legislators raise spending less than they had initially intended and then claim it as a “cut.” This is a perfect example. The county did not cut spending on the forensic audit from $200,000 to $140,000. Let me repeat that: The county is not cutting spending on this. It is not a cut. The county will be spending $140,000 on a budget line that did not exist in the previous budget. That, my friends, is a spending increase.

Say I go to buy a new car. The dealer shows me a new Mustang for $50,000. Then he shows me a used Chevy S10 for $4,000. I want the Mustang. But I can afford the S10, so I buy that. Did I cut $46,000 from my car budget?

When you increase spending less than you had originally planned (or than you wanted), you are still increasing spending.

Libeling Israel

Claude Roessiger wrote in a letter to the Granite State News on July 23rd that “the Republican congressional bloc takes its orders from Israel.” The anti-Semitic idea of an “Israel lobby” that controls elements of the United States Government is not new. It is base and should be condemned.

Further libeling Israel, Mr. Roessiger claims: “There is no agreement that Israel would have favored. Why? Because Israel sees its interest in a continuation of the stand-off and wars that have existed for three decades.” This is absurd. The reason Israel does not favor the so-called deal with Iran is that Iran has stated repeatedly that it wishes destroy Israel, or in the words of Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran wishes to “wipe Israel off the map.” Iran’s real leader, Ali Khamenei, reacted to the agreement with the P5+1 last week by leading chants of “Death to America” while holding an AK47 in his hand. According to the AP:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday a landmark nuclear deal won’t change his country’s policy toward the “arrogant” U.S. … ” Our policy toward the arrogant U.S. government won’t change at all,” Khamenei said in an address carried live by state television. “We have no negotiations with America about various global and regional issues. We have no negotiations on bilateral issues.”

Khamenei’s speech, which he gave to a large crowd in Tehran to mark the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, stressed that Iran will continue to support its allies in the Middle East, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Palestinian resistance groups and the Syrian government.

Iran calls its Lebanese ally Hezbollah a “resistance movement” while the U.S. classifies it as a terrorist group. Iran also continues to call for the destruction of Israel, which Khamenei described in his speech as a “terrorist, baby-killer government.”

Agence-France Press reports of the same speech:

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday that a landmark nuclear deal with world powers “won’t change” the country’s stance toward the “arrogant” United States.

The remarks were greeted by chants of “Death to America” at a ceremony in Tehran marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which was broadcast live on state television.

The New York Times:

Mr. Obama has made the agreement a benchmark of his presidency. It is opposed by Republicans and by Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of the United States’ most significant allies in the region. They have denounced it as a diplomatic mistake that will strengthen the economic and military power of a nation that threatens its neighbors, engages in and supports hostage-taking and terrorism, and is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. …

At the same time, Mr. Khamenei made clear that a single agreement did not mean Iran’s overall relationship with the United States would change, and he promised to continue Iran’s support for allies in the region, including President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah movement. He praised Iran’s annual anti-Israel rally, known as Quds Day.

I think it is shameful that Mr. Roessiger blames nefarious Jews—AIPAC—for the “virtual commandeering of our foreign policy in the Middle East.” Perhaps he should pay more attention to Iran’s intentions, as stated, repeatedly, by its own leaders.

Saudi Arabia also opposes the “deal” with Iran, but for some reason Mr. Roessiger doesn’t condemn the Kingdom for trying to influence Congress. Only the Jews are singled out.

Perhaps Mr. Roessiger is taking his cues from President Obama, who has been warning for some time, most recently in his July 2015 appearance on The Daily Show, about the influence of “lobbyists” who oppose his deal with Iran.

According to a January 15, 2015, article in the New York Times, “The president said he understood the pressures that senators face from donors and others, but he urged the lawmakers to take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain … Mr. Menendez [D-NJ], who was seated at a table in front of the podium, stood up and said he took ‘personal offense.’ ”

Petitioning our government for grievances, i.e., lobbying, is of course a fundamental right protected by the First Amendment. In the context of the Iran deal, warning about “lobbyists” is obviously a reference to AIPAC, and “donors” is meant to refer to Jewish donors. Mr. Roessiger goes a step further than the president by explicitly stating that these donors represent “foreign” influence, thereby invoking the old anti-Semitic charge that Jewish Americans hold dual allegiances.

Mr. Roessiger cites national polls in aid of his anti-Semitic charge that the “Republican congressional bloc takes its orders from Israel,” but U.S. senators—whether Democrats, Republicans, or self-declared socialists such as Bernie Sanders—should not concern themselves foremost with national polls, but rather with the concerns of their own constituents. Furthermore, the national polls that I have looked at, which purport to show support for the Iran deal, often ask questions such as this one in a CNN poll: “Do you favor or oppose direct diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Iran in an attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?” Sixty-eight percent of respondents said yes. But what this tell us is that 68 percent of the respondents would like to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The deal that Secretary Kerry has negotiated will do nothing of the sort. At best, it will delay Iran’s acquiring of a nuclear weapon by 10 years. But that assumes that Iran will not violate the terms of the agreement. Considering that they are currently in violation of numerous international agreements, this seems unlikely.

This post appeared as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News.

Free Speech Is Free Speech

I thank the editors of the Granite State News for taking the time to respond to my letter (Other Voices, June 25th). I take them at their word that they are not challenging the basic right of free speech. Readers can go back to the May 21st editorial and see if they come to the same conclusion that I did upon first reading it, that the editors were proposing curbing the first amendment. They wrote then, “Every one of the rights listed [in the first amendment] … have been subject to limitations in our history.” Then they concluded with, “We simply cannot allow free speech to degenerate into hostile speech or let unrestrained self-expression drive us apart.”

What do they mean by “cannot allow free speech to degenerate” and “or let unrestrained self-expression drive us apart”? How do they propose that we control free speech? Who will do the controlling and the restraining? I believe reasonable readers, in whose company I fancy myself, can come to the conclusion that the editors were proposing limiting the right of free speech. But they write that they were not.

Again I must thank the editors for printing my correspondence. They are under no obligation to do so. If the editors were to decline to publish my letter, my rights would not be violated. I could write to a different newspaper, I could start a blog, I could start my own newspaper. The first amendment prohibits the government from limiting my speech.

My fellow Tuftonboro resident, John Ratcliffe, writes on June 18th that he “hated what [George W.] Bush did to [the U.S.],” but “wouldn’t have dreamed of posting a sign at the end of [his] driveway with crude insults on it as regards to the president of the United States.” This is perhaps admirable but by no means typical of American history. (Mr. Ratcliffe also does not know the difference between yearly deficits and cumulative debts, but that’s for another letter.)

Much of the American left—and I’m not sure if Mr. Ratcliffe or the editors would be included in this category, though it seems likely—are under the delusion that Barack Obama has received more abuse than other presidents. This is simply not true. To take just the most recent example, George W. Bush was the target of countless “crude insults,” even if Mr. Ratcliffe would not have dreamed of putting a sign at the end of his driveway. Bush was often hanged in effigy during anti-war protests, he was depicted in political cartoons as a monkey, and even booed by Democrats during his State of the Union speech in 2005. (And he was by no means the first to receive such treatment from the opposing party during a speech.) There was even a movie made about assassinating him! “After the last eight years, it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is,” said Paul McCartney in 2010, evidently not knowing that George W. Bush was a voracious reader who consumed over a hundred books a year. Natalie Maine of the Dixie Chicks famously called Bush a “dumb F—.”

The editors worry that today “the opportunity of free speech is often taken as a license to be rude and disrespectful and shout down those you assume do not agree with you.” (June 25th) They are also under the misimpression that we are living in a new era of “hostile speech.” They wrote on May 21, “Instead of free speech as it was protected in our 18th century Constitution we have hostile speech that is intended to attack and provoke rather than inform and lead to debate.” Put aside their formulation of free speech as an “opportunity” rather than a basic right, it is simply not accurate that our times are any different, or that free speech has ever been conditioned on whether it intends to inform and lead to debate.

The election of 1800 was by many accounts one of the nastiest in our history, with slander flying in both directions. These “attack ads” from 1800, produced by Reason.com, quote directly from the campaign:

Thomas Jefferson paid a newspaper editor to call sitting president John Adams, among other things, a “blind, bald, crippled, toothless man.”  Adams’s allies in turn warned that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, adultery, rape, incest, and robbery will be openly taught and practiced.” And Jefferson and Adams had been friends for over 25 years at that point! There’s not enough space to list all the insults that other presidents have endured. From Washington to Obama, every single one of our presidents has been vilified at some point. Newspapers accused Washington of wanting to be a king, Lincoln was called an ape, etc., etc.

It is truly part of what makes America great that we can insult our presidents with impunity. Do you disagree? Ask yourself what happens to Russians who criticize Putin; to Cubans who criticize the Castros; to North Koreans who criticize the Kims.

This post appeared as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News.