Selectmen Meet, Encumber Funds, Vote on Brown Road Lower Beech Pond Issue

The selectmen (Carolyn Sundquist, Bill Marcussen, Lloyd Wood) had a special meeting this morning at 10AM to encumber funds that had been appropriated for 2016 but not spent. Encumbering allows the funds to be spent in 2017 instead. Selectmen Wood voted “no” on the measure to encumber funds for new garage doors at the high department garage on Sodom Road. Other than that, the selectmen were unanimous in their other votes, including to encumber funds for storm windows at the Town House.

The selectmen also voted to authorize their attorney, Rick Sager, to investigate public access to Lower Beech Pond from Brown Road. In an August 25, 2016, email to Road Agent Jim Bean, which local resident Guy Pike acquired through a Right to Know request, Carolyn Sundquist wrote “I advised the Steinmans to go ahead with placing boulders in front of the access.” The Steinmans are Theodore and Carol Steinman, of Brown Road. After Sundquist advised the Steinmens to “go ahead with placing boulders,” they paid their contractor $3,500 to place boulders at the public access to Lower Beech Pond, which is a state pond stocked with fish by the New Hampshire Fish and Game department. Sundquist apparently did not consult with Sager before advising the Steinmans.

The Steinmans explained in a letter to Sundquist dated November 15, 2016, also pursuant to Pike’s Right to Know request, “In a good neighbor gesture, and discussed with you and Jack Parsons in advance, we left a three foot wide opening at the head of the pond to allow small boats, canoes, kayaks, to be carried in. We complied with the direction of Jack Parsons to keep the rocks three feet back from the road so as not to interfere with plowing. Our contractor, Jake Dawson, spoke with Tuftonboro Road Agent, Jim Bean, in advance of any work to clarify the correct placement of the rocks.”

Unfortunately for the Steinmans, it appears that the rocks are within the town’s right of way. The question now is, should the Steinmans, who diligently sought the town’s advice before taking action, be held financially responsible for moving the rocks? According to an article on the concept of Municipal Estoppel at the New Hampshire Municipal Association’s web site, no. If the Steinmans can prove that they sought the advice of an “elected official or a municipal employee with actual authority to represent the municipality on the matter” who “makes a statement to a person which proves to be false” then “the municipality will be ‘estopped’ or ‘prevented’ from taking action to reach some other result with the person.”

In this case two elected officials, Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist and Road Agent Jim Bean, as well as a town employee, Jack Parsons, told the Steinmans it was OK to place the rocks where they are currently located, in the town’s right of way. Since the Steinmans relied, in good faith, on advice that turned out to be false, that means that the town will be “estopped” from requiring the Steinmans to move the rocks.

Carolyn Sundquist gave bad advice. Now the town has to pay Rick Sager $175 an hour in taxpayer money to tell her that it was bad advice. Then we might have to spend public money to move the rocks that are only where they are now due to Sundquist’s mistake.

The selectmen forgot to say the pledge of allegiance before this morning’s meeting (they are required by vote of Town Meeting to start each meeting with the pledge), so Guy Pike led a recitation of the pledge, joined by other members of the public, after the selectmen adjourned their meeting.

Public’s Right to Know Under Attack in New Hampshire

I’m getting sued by the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) because I made a document request through New Hampshire’s Right to Know law and the selectmen don’t want to comply with the law.

So they sued me!

Now I’ve had to hire an attorney to defend myself, along with my co-defendant, Bob McWhirter, who is also being sued because he made a lawful request to inspect records.

We’re asking for small contributions to help us defray the costs imposed on us by the selectmen’s abuse of power.

Please consider donating $5 at https://igg.me/at/zFnfBtqY90Q.

Union Leader Editorial on Right to Know Law: Update It

The Union Leader published an editorial this week calling for the legislature to update the Right to Know law for the digital age, while referencing the selectmen’s abusive lawsuit against Bob and me:

Tuftonboro selectmen are the latest municipal officials asking for citizens to reimburse taxpayers for the time and expense of preparing public records for inspection. State law clearly provides that citizens can inspect public documents free of charge, but can be charged for actual copying costs.

Resident Robert McWhirter wants access to 11,000 town emails. Selectmen say it will cost up to $12,800 to prepare the documents, redacting any confidential information. They are asking Carroll County Superior Court for permission to charge $.25 per page, potentially thousands of dollars.

The law needs to be rewritten for the digital age. State and local governments need to create and archive electronic records, including official email accounts, knowing that the public will read them.

– Read the full editorial at: http://www.unionleader.com/editorial/Update-the-law-Right-To-Know-in-the-information-age-12152016#sthash.OTqBsem5.dpuf

The only thing I would quibble with is the assertion by the selectmen (Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) that it will cost up to $12,800 to comply  with the law. Please keep in mind that our taxes already pay the salaries of the town office staff. Replying to Right to Know requests is part of the “normal work schedule,” according to none other than Carolyn Sundquist. There is no added cost.

Selectmen’s Meeting for October 17, 2016

Present were Guy Pike, Joe Kowalski, Elissa Paquette, Carla Lootens, Betsy Frago, Christie Sarles, Adam Thompson, Andy Shagoury, and Gordon Hunt.

Minutes from previous the meeting were approved with minor corrections.

Chief Thompson presented fire department statistics highlighted by his arriving on crutches with a broken Achilles’ tendon acquired while off duty. He will be on light duty for eight weeks.

Chief Shagoury encountered computer issues and was unable to give a police statistics update. He did, however, announce a drug take-back day at the transfer station on October 22 from 10am-2pm.

Gordon Hunt and Christie Sarles presented the proposed library budget for 2017. Total budget $204,502 from $199,492. Approved by Selectmen 3-0.

Executive salaries were approved at $95,819 with a 2-1 vote. Selectman Lloyd P. Wood moved to add $1000 to the overtime line since our secretaries had so much extra work. Carolyn Sundquist disagreed as the work was in their job descriptions. She lost. 2016 budget was $87,970.

The Town’s insurance budget was approved at $60,916. This is up about $18,000 since the refunding of over charges has expired.

The Lang’s Pond Road project is almost done and looks good.

A letter is being sent to the Steinmans (the people who had the stones placed in the Town’s right of way on Brown Road). Discussion revealed that the Road Agent has concerns with being able to keep the road open!

Public input was interesting. Guy Pike referred to selectman’s chair Carolyn Sundquist’s statement questioning what the public might say that would change the Budget Committee members’s minds on votes? He commented that Max Ledoux’s questioning of the board of selectmen’s authority to sell property had apparently resulted in the board changing their mind. Carolyn Sundquist replied that “that was taken out of context.” (Watch the full video and decide for yourself if there’s sufficient context.) Guy Pike then suggested that before the board consulted with Attorney Sager in the future they should seek legal advice! Blank stares followed.

Elissa Paquette asked about the Selectmen’s being restricted in the selling of town-owned properties. Carolyn Sundquist responded that the 2003 Town Meeting was presented with a warrant article to rescind a former vote to give the selectmen pertpetual authority to sell and it passed. Elissa asked who the selectmen were at that time. Carolyn replied Susan Weeks, Rick Chellman, and Bill Stockman. Carolyn also said she didn’t know why the then-selectmen put the warrant article before the town!

Those are the highlights. Administrative secretary Karen Koch’s excellent minutes will chronicle the mundane details.

Selectmen to Meet at 9AM to Set Tax Rate

On Friday, October 14, the selectmen will have a meeting at 9 AM, when most residents are unable to attend due to work schedules. That is especially troubling because the selectmen will be setting the tax rate for the coming year, something that will affect all taxpayers. The selectmen will also be reviewing budgets for:

  • 4210 Police Department
  • 4324 Transfer Station
  • 4194 Transfer Station Building
  • 4312 Highway Department
  • 4240 Building Inspection
  • 4150 Financial Administration-Tax Collector portion
  • 4442 Direct Assistance

At the October 4 budget committee meeting Direct Assistance was a topic of discussion. Board member Tyler Philips expressed his belief that it was “stupid” to reauthorize $35,000 for Direct Assistance for next year when so far this year the town has spent approximately $1,200 (of the $35,000 that was appropriated).

According to last year’s town report, in 2015 the town appropriated $45,000 for Direct Assistance, but the actual amount spent for that year was just $4,890.

What happens to the money that is appropriated for Direct Assistance but not spent on  Direct Assistance? It remains in the general fund where it is then spent on other things in following years, instead of on people who are in need. If we are appropriating money for people in need, then it’s my opinion that that money should be used only for people in need. If it is not spent on that purpose, then the left over money should be returned to the taxpayer in the form of a credit on property tax bills.

Selectmen Again Refuse to Have Meetings in Evenings, Instead Vote Unanimously to Restrict Public Comment

At Monday’s board of selectmen meeting, which was held at 4 PM when most Tuftonboro residents are at work and unable to attend, Chairman Carolyn Sundquist distractedly sorted her paperwork during the public comment portion of the meeting instead of listening to the concerns of town resident Betsy Frago. During other parts of the public comment portion Sundquist impatiently rapped her fingers on the table.

During public input the selectmen again flatly refused to consider a request to have at least one meeting a month at 6:30 PM.

Chairman Carolyn Sundquist also unilaterally refused a request to allow the public to ask relevant (on topic) questions during meetings. The selectmen had been allowing questions during meetings from Elissa  Paquette, the reporter from the Granite State News who always writes favorable articles about the selectmen. After a letter I wrote expressing my opinion that it was a form of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination to allow one  person and no others to ask questions, Sundquist on September 13 unilaterally announced that the board would no longer take questions from Paquette or anyone else. During this week’s meeting Sundquist confirmed that there was no discussion of the matter by the board, and that she alone made the decision, saying “I eliminated questions.”

When questioned if the chair has the authority to make decisions about who can talk at meetings without being granted the authority to do so by a majority vote of the board, Sundquist hastily made a motion “to not allow public input during our meeting, and only at the end.”

Selectmen Lloyd P. Wood immediately seconded the motion, saying “I’m very pleased with that motion.”

Sundquist said, “apparently everything we do needs some kind of motion. Even though as chairman I do run the meeting, and if I hear from counsel that you can not allow one person to speak and not another, then I eliminate–and make it fair for everybody.”

Wood agreed, “Yes, the case law on that is very clear on that. It’s unfortunate, but unfortunately we have to operate that way.”

“Exactly,” said Sundquist.

Selectmen Bill Marcussen remained completely mute throughout the entire discussion, but joined Sundquist and Wood on voting Aye to pass the motion to not allow any questions from anyone during the meeting, but to allow a public input section at the end of the meeting, after votes have taken place when the public input is meaningless.

After the selectmen voted, I asked Sundquist to confirm that the attorney had told her it was illegal to allow one person to speak and not another. She replied, “he didn’t say that it was illegal… he said you really shouldn’t allow one person.”

Wood repeated that “the case law is clear.”

Notes from the video:

The reason the selectmen voted not to allow questions from anyone until after the meeting: http://tuftonboro.net/max/town-government/letter-selectmen-questions-meetings/

New Hampshire Municipal Association, Selecting the Rules for Boards of Selectmen: https://www.nhmunicipal.org/TownAndCity/Article/323

New Hampshire Revised Statues Annotated (RSA) 41:8, CHOICE AND DUTIES OF TOWN OFFICERS ; Selectmen: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/III/41/41-8.htm

Court awards $40,000 in damages in Alton free speech case : http://www.unionleader.com/article/20160504/NEWS21/160509656

New Hampshire Retirement System lowers assumed rate of return to 7.25%: http://www.pionline.com/article/20160525/ONLINE/160529932/new-hampshire-retirement-system-lowers-assumed-rate-of-return-to-725

Pension board hits state with $420 million tab: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20160826/NEWS02/160829890/pension-board-hits-state-with-420-million-tab

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.

Carolyn Sundquist Excuse for Meeting Times Proven Baseless

Carolyn Sundquist
Carolyn Sundquist

The Tuftonboro selectmen are refusing to hold their meetings in the evening when more members of the public could attend if they wanted. Instead, the selectmen prefer holding their meetings at 9AM and 4PM, when it is extremely inconvenient for anyone who works normal hours to attend.

Last month Chairman Carolyn Sundquist dismissed the idea of holding selectmen’s meetings at 6:30 or 7PM by saying that evening meetings would be unfair to Karen Koch, the administrative secretary, who would have to attend to take minutes.

The official job description for the Administrative Secretary position states, as a requirement for employment: “Must be able to attend meetings outside of normal hours.”

The job description was last updated by the selectmen on June 10, 2013. Carolyn Sundquist was a selectman at the time. In fact, she was chairman that year. The minutes from the June 10, 2013, meeting show that the selectmen voted unanimously to adopt the Administrative Secretary job description, including the requirement that the employee holding the position must be able to attend meetings outside of normal hours.

The June 10, 2013, selectman’s meeting was held at 7PM.

I am collecting signatures for a petition to place a warrant article in consideration at Town Meeting 2017 to require the selectmen to hold their meetings at 6:30 PM so that more town residents could attend if they want to attend. If you are interested in adding your signature, please let me know by adding a comment to this post and I will bring the petition to you.

I work from home and am able to attend the selectmen’s meetings at 9AM and 4PM. However, I recognize that most people who work normal hours are not able to attend. I wish the selectmen would keep the average working person’s schedule in mind. The selectmen work for us, the residents of the town. They should not hold meetings when it is inconvenient for most people to attend.

 

Sundquist Squelches Speech

Chairman Carolyn Sundquist today announced that the selectmen will no longer allow questions from reporters during their meetings. This is a reversal of their previous policy. Elissa Paquette, the reporter for the Granite State News, has been allowed by the selectmen to ask questions during meetings. On June 20, 2016, Sundquist stated that Paquette was allowed to ask questions because she was “the reporter.” The change in policy is a direct result of a letter I wrote to the selectmen last week informing them that I am a reporter and that I would be asking questions during the meetings just as Paquette did.

Sundquist made the announcement toward the end of today’s meeting, after Paquette had already left. Paquette, however, made no attempt to ask questions while she was in attendance. It appears she might have been told of the new policy in advance.

Sundquist said that the decision was hers alone, and the three member board had not voted on the subject. When I asked her (during public comment at the end of the meeting) when she had made the decision, she reluctantly said that it was after receiving “feedback.” I asked who the feedback had come from, and she admitted that she had received legal advice from the selectmen’s counsel Rick Sager.

The logical conclusion is that Sager told Sundquist that if the selectmen allowed Paquette to ask questions during their meetings then they had to allow others to ask questions as well. In other words, the policy the selectmen have been following since March, which was to allow Paquette to ask questions but insist that everyone else wait until a period of public comment at the end of the meeting was, in fact, illegal. Had the selectmen continued to engage in viewpoint discrimination — allowing questions only from a friendly reporter — the town would have opened itself up to liability issues.

This is the second time this year that the selectmen have had to correct a policy after receiving legal advice from Rick Sager. Earlier this year the selectmen illegally paid Cory Hunter for groundwork in the town cemetery. Only the cemetery trustees, by law, can authorize such a payment. The selectmen knew this at the time, because Sue Weeks, the chairman of the trustees of the cemetery trust funds, had informed them before they voted to pay Hunter. The selectmen had been illegally managing the cemeteries, by their own admission, for years. After consulting with Sager, the selectmen publicly revised their relationship with the cemetery trustees.

Sundquist’s decision to shut down questions during meetings reflects her broader antipathy toward public involvement in town government. On May 24th, 2016, she stated, “What would the public say that would change our minds on a vote? I can’t imagine what they would say.

Letter to the Selectmen: Questions During Meetings

I sent this letter to the selectmen on Friday. The selectmen have been allowing Elissa Paquette of the Granite State News to ask questions throughout their meetings, while at the same time they don’t want anyone else to ask questions.

Tuftonboro Board of Selectmen
Carolyn Sundquist
Lloyd Wood
Bill Marcussen

September 2, 2016

Dear Selectmen,

At your June 20, 2016, meeting Chairman Sundquist stated that Elissa Paquette is allowed to ask questions during meetings because she is “the reporter.”

As you probably know, the board of selectmen of Alton, New Hampshire, humiliated themselves last year by having a resident, Jeffrey Clay, arrested. Mr. Clay was speaking during the Alton selectmen’s meeting. The selectmen’s case against Mr. Clay was thrown out by Federal Judge James Carroll of Laconia Circuit Court for being “pure censorship.” Judge Carroll specifically noted that the selectmen allowed another resident to speak right after they had violated Mr. Clay’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Court ruled that this was “viewpoint discrimination.” The Court also found that the board had violated Mr. Clay’s rights under the New Hampshire Constitution, Part I, Article 22: “Free Speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.”

I do not believe that it is constitutional to discourage comments from the general public while repeatedly taking questions from a reporter. That she provides positive coverage of you, even reporting falsehoods, such as when she knowingly misreported that there was a “contract signed in 2010” with Cory Hunter, which was false, should make you all the more cautious about discouraging other speech, which might not be as routinely positive as hers.

I question your decision to give special privileges to a reporter that you do not want to give to the general public.

However, since you do give special privileges to one reporter, I am informing you that I am also a reporter.

I do not believe you have the authority to classify certain people as “real” reporters and others as not. However — should you like to know my bona fides — I work for Ricochet.com, which is a national news & opinion website with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors each month — far more than read the Granite State News. I have been writing about local and national topics at Ricochet for half a decade. In addition, I am the owner and operator of Tuftonboro.net, which I created as a free resource for Tuftonboro residents.

Beginning with your next meeting, I will reserve the right to ask questions on the topics under discussion, as a reporter, during your meetings, just as Mrs. Paquette does. Of course, should you decide to revise your policies and not allow reporters to ask questions during your meetings, I will respect that.

Kind Regards,
Max Ledoux