Unconstitutional Viewpoint Discrimination

granite-state-news-front-page-september-22It was exciting to have my picture on the front page of the Granite State News last week. For those who don’t know me, the caption identifying me as “with arms crossed” was undoubtedly very helpful in differentiating me from Steve Brinser, who was seated behind me with his arms crossed, or from Carla Lootens, who was seated next to me with her arms crossed, or from Betsy Frago, who also had her arms crossed.

I would like the selectmen to have their meetings in the evening when it’s more convenient for most working people to come—so that more people who wish to come will be able to do so. The selectmen do not want to have their meetings when it’s more convenient for the majority of residents. If you agree with me, please let me know at max@tuftonboro.net and I will bring the petition to you to sign. You just need to be a registered voter in Tuftonboro. If you disagree with me and think the selectmen should continue to have meetings at times that are inconvenient for most people, then please come to Town Meeting in March to vote against the warrant article. Town Meeting will be at 7:30 PM (after normal working hours so that more residents can come).

Elissa Paquette left half-way through the meeting (which started at 9AM), before the public-comment portion, but she did a pretty good job of transcribing the video, albeit with the addition of some fairly amusing purple prose about my speaking style.

Elissa mentioned my discussion about meeting times and noted accurately that I asked Carolyn Sundquist whether she was running for re-election to a fourth term. But Elissa omitted another important topic of conversation: For the past six months, the selectmen have been allowing Elissa to ask questions during meetings while refusing to allow anyone else to ask questions until the end of the meeting. That means the public can ask questions only after the selectmen have voted on the issues under discussion that day. I recently wrote a letter to the selectmen, expressing my view that allowing only one person to ask questions represented viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional. After checking with the selectmen’s attorney (Rick Sager), Carolyn Sundquist announced, unilaterally and without any vote being taken, that she would no longer allow anyone to ask questions during meetings (before the selectmen vote); people can continue to offer comments or ask questions at the very end of the meeting, after the selectmen have voted.

The attorney’s advice strongly supports my assertion that the selectmen have, in fact, been engaged in an unconstitutional practice. Otherwise, he would have told them they could continue to prohibit everyone except Elissa from asking questions during meetings.

This is the second time this year that the selectmen have had to stop an illegal practice after consulting with their attorney. In May, after consulting with Sager, they acknowledged they had no legal right to usurp statutory authority from the trustees of the cemetery trust funds, something they had been doing, by their own admission, for years.

Why didn’t Elissa report on the selectmen’s unconstitutional behavior? Could it be because it has benefitted her?

I do not believe the selectmen have intended to break any law. One reason it’s healthy to have the public participate in meetings is that residents can help ensure transparency and accountability—and course correction when necessary. And that’s good for the whole town.

This post was submitted as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News and would be in the September 29th edition, if published.

Published in Town Government
Max Ledoux

Author: Max Ledoux

I've lived in Tuftonboro since 2014. I grew up in Lisbon Falls, Maine (the Moxie capital of the world). I run tuftonboro.net. If you'd like your own blog here, click the "Get Free Blog" link in the menu at the top of the page. Everyone is welcome to write about anything they like.

4 thoughts on “Unconstitutional Viewpoint Discrimination”

  1. Betcha it doesn’t get published intact if it gets published at all. Transparency is good, accountability is better. Thank you for doing both Max.

  2. Mr. Beller’s editorial last week admonished people for talking to “their friends” and instead urged people to share their opinions in the letter section to the Grunter. Well, he also mentioned in that editorial about nefarious people who had accused the paper of lying. That was me. I accused Elissa of lying. Because she lied. I wrote a letter laying out the evidence for how she lied (http://tuftonboro.net/max/opinion/granite-state-news-refuses-correct-false-reporting/), but Beeler refused to print it. Instead he half-heartedly suggested he might sue me for defamation.

  3. It is interesting that the Selectmen refuse evening meetings when all the other boards and committees do have their meetings in the evening.

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