Selectmen’s Meeting, June 20th, 2016

As usual, the meeting started with the pledge of allegiance. Everyone stood and faced the flag, and almost everyone recited the pledge. The selectmen’s first order of business was to meet with the cemetery trustees, Sue Weeks and Peter Slusky (Guy Pike was not present because he’s in Europe).

Sue Weeks requested to see the memo from attorney Rick Sager advising the selectmen to “divorce” themselves from the cemetery operations. She stated that she thought the trustees were entitled to see it since it had to do with them and that she had spoken to attorneys at a cemetery trustees workshop that she and Pike attended earlier this month who told her that the trustees should be entitled to see it. Carolyn Sundquist refused, stating that there was no public benefit to letting the trustees see it. Sue Weeks stated that in that case it was evident that Rick Sager is the selectmen’s attorney, not the town’s attorney. The trustees have therefore hired their own attorney. Sue Weeks said that the selectmen and the cemetery trustees should work together and not be at odds. Carolyn Sundquist stated that the only reason for the recent acrimony is that “Mr. Ledoux wrote a letter alleging we broke the law.” That elides the fact that the selectmen did break state law by voting to make a payment on April 25 that they did not have the authority to make.

Discussion then turned to the procedure for when someone comes in to the town office to enquire about purchasing a cemetery lot. The trustees think that the town employees should continue to process the paperwork. At the next trustees meeting, after Guy Pike has returned, the trustees will formalize a procedure for the employees to follow.

There is confusion as to where the monies are to be kept that are collected when a lot is sold. The cemetery trustees were informed at the trustees workshop they attended that lots are considered town property. Both the trustees and the selectmen were surprised by this. In addition, a part of the fee for perpetual care of a lot is supposed to be accounted for each individual grave site. The money in the perpetual care account is supposed to be used for the lots that purchased perpetual care. Some lots, especially those in old cemeteries or old parts of the Town House cemetery, for instance, do not have perpetual care funds allocated to them. For accounting purposes their care is paid for out of the general fund. In addition, a certain percentage of the interest from the cemetery trusts is supposed to be reinvested each year into the principle in order to keep up with inflation. The trustees will do more research on all these matters. The trustees would also like an additional fire-proof filing cabinet for records. The selectmen pledged they will authorize the purchase of that and any other office equipment that the trustees need. Discussion also ensued about declaring some of the cemeteries in town that are on private property to be “abandoned.” This is a legal procedure that will give the town the same rights as descendants of those who are buried in the cemeteries. The descendants will not lose any rights. It will merely allow the town legally to repair grave stones and walls. By state law, the town needs to list the cemeteries in a reputable paper (so not the Granite State News) and then the selectmen must hold a public hearing, which can be at their normal public meeting.

After speaking with the trustees the selectmen turned to the signature file. There was a request, I believe it was to log (I will confirm from the official meeting minutes and update), notice of intent to excavate for a property that is owned by a Trust. Only one of the trustees has signed the request. Selectman Lloyd Wood asked Chairman Sundquist to read into the record a statement the selectman had received (from whom, I’m not sure) via email that all members of a trust do not have to sign and that the selectmen can take a trustee’s  word that they are actually a trustee. If the person misrepresents that they are a trustee then they are liable, not the selectmen, for legal repercussions. Selectmen Sundquist and Bill Marcussen then voted to approve the request (to log?) to excavate and selectman Wood voted against.

Elissa Paquette asked a question about one of the items the selectmen were signing, and Carolyn Sundquist answered. I then asked why Paquette is allowed to ask questions during meetings but the rest of those who attend are asked to wait until the end of the meeting for the public comment period. Carolyn Sundquist replied “because she’s the reporter.” I asked if there was a special exception for Paquette, and Carolyn Sundquist said “Yes.” I asked if the selectmen had voted on that, and she said, “Yes.” I then apologized for breaking the rules (more on that in a later post).

The selectmen reviewed a large amount of correspondence.

Administrative Secretary Karen Koch forwarded the selectmen with a preliminary $5,000 estimate from a company to revamp the town’s sadly out-of-date web site.

Nancy Randlov has resigned as chair of the recycling committee. Lloyd Wood made a motion to accept the resignation and to send Randlov a thank you card. Betsy Frago is resigning from the ZBA board. Lloyd Wood made a motion to accept the resignation and to send Frago a thank you card. Since Frago was also present at the meeting, Wood turned and thanked her personally, echoed by Sundquist and Marcussen.

Administrative Secretary Karen Koch forwarded the selectmen with a preliminary estimate from a company to revamp the town’s sadly out-of-date web site. The estimate is for $5,000.

Another letter informed the town that Time Warner Cable has been bought by Charter Communications. Carolyn Sundquist stated she had also received a letter from TWC/Charter and assumed most other resident in town who are TWC customers will have received the same letter.

A resident of Eaglemere Road wrote to the selectmen to express her desire that the town not pave that road. Lloyd Wood asked if Jim Bean had completed an analysis of the relative costs of maintaining a dirt road versus a paved road, which the selectmen had requested during their roads tour in April. At that time the selectmen had indicated that if they thought paving the road was a good idea then they would put it to Town Meeting for a vote.

The selectmen reported on the various other committee meetings they have attended in recent weeks. Bill Marcussen says there isn’t a lot of milfoil on the lake this year.

Lloyd Wood asked if Jim Bean had filled in the void on Sodom Road at the Melvin River Bridge. Karen Koch said she had not heard from him. However, after the meeting I drove up Sodom Road and saw that the hole had been filled in earlier Monday.

At the previous meeting the selectmen had decided to ask the town employees if they wanted to include benefits as base pay for the sake of retirement contributions. Karen Koch and Clay Gallagher, the transfer station director, both receive lump payments in lieu of health insurance. They have both said that they would like the payment in lieu of health insurance to be counted as base pay. That would increase the retirement contribution. Sundquist asked if the board wanted to make a decision. Marcussen and Wood both said they wanted more information.

The official public comment period was next, then the public meeting ended. The selectmen had a non-public meeting directly after.

Carolyn Sundquist on Public Questions During Meetings

At Monday’s meeting of the selectmen, Carolyn Sundquist stated when asked that Elissa Paquette of the Granite State News is allowed to ask questions during selectmen’s meetings because she’s “the reporter.” From March, 2015, to March, 2016, the selectmen did not allow public input during their meetings. After former selectman Dan Duffy’s term ended and he was replaced by newly elected Bill Marcussen, the selectmen decided on March 14th, 2016, to allow public input, but frown on public questions during the meetings, preferring to hear comments at the end. However, they allow Paquette to ask questions at any point during the meetings.

Carolyn Sundquist: A leader who listens
Carolyn Sundquist Campaign Mailer

On May 24 at the budget committee’s meeting  Sundquist stated that “the public does not have a right to speak.” (She is the selectmen’s representative to that committee.) This is accurate in that while the public has a right to attend meetings, municipal bodies are not required by law to allow the public to speak. However, Sundquist’s antipathy toward the public stands in stark contrast to her campaign slogan when she first ran for selectman: “A leader who listens.” Sundquist also promised “open and honest government” and to “respect[] the will of the voters.” At the May 24th budget meeting, though, when discussing whether that body should allow public comment during their meeting, Sundquist said, “Could I just ask — what would come from the public that would make us change our minds on something?

In a February, 2008, letter mailed to Tuftonboro, Sundquist promised “I will listen and evaluate your input and will respect your opinions. I am an attentive listener and believe in open government and understand that the selectmen serve the voters and citizens of Tuftonboro.”

Carolyn Sundquist campaign letter

Police Department Assists in Filling Sink Hole on Mountain Road

Last week a local bicyclist notice a sink hole on Mountain Road (otherwise known as Route 171, a state road), very close to Canaan Road. There happened to be a Tuftonboro Police cruiser passing by at the moment and the bicyclist waved the officer over. Within a very short amount of time that same afternoon the sink hole was being patched while Chief Andy Shagoury and Officer Tom LaFavre directed traffic.

IMG_6748

Here it is after being patched, looking in the opposite direction of the previous photo:

sink hole route 171 mountain road at canaan road

According to a resident who spoke to Officer LaFavre afterward, the visible hole in the roadway was just the tip of the iceberg, and there was a much larger hole underneath that could have caused the road to cave in.

The good news is that the hole was filled in immediately and also that the state had already informed the selectmen that all of Route 171 will be repaved this summer, from the Ossipee line to the Moultonborough line.

Thank you to the Tuftonboro PD for their prompt attention to this matter!

Selectmen Meet with Rick Sager about Auctioning of Town Property

Rick Sager is the town of Tuftonboro’s attorney. The board of selectmen (Chair Carolyn Sundquist, Lloyd Wood, and Bill Marcussen) met with him on June 6, 2016, to discuss whether to also use his services as an auctioneer to sell properties that the town owns due tax deeding (i.e. the previous owners failed to pay property taxes). During public comment afterward, Bob McWhirter asked if the selectmen thought it might be a conflict of interest for Rick Sager to both be the attorney for the town as well as the auctioneer who then sells the properties. Carolyn Sundquist said that no, it is not a conflict of interest.

[Post updated: See Bob McWhirter’s comment below.]

Granite State News Refuses to Correct False Reporting

The Granite State News has repeatedly misreported the facts in recent weeks about a non-existent contract for maintenance work and the statutory responsibility for operating the cemeteries in Tuftonboro. After the paper misreported that there was an “ongoing contract,” I gave the paper’s reporter, Elissa Paquette, proof that there were no signatures on the 2010 document, and therefore it was not a contract. She then wrote, contrary to absolute fact, that there was a “contract signed in 2010.” The publicly available document that Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist originally thought was a contract was not signed by anyone (which I explicitly pointed out to Paquette), and even if it had been signed, it had an expiration date of April 15, 2011. It was never a valid contract. The Granite State News has knowingly attempted to mislead its readers and owes all of us a public retraction and correction. However, editor Tom Beeler insisted to me in an email that Ms. Paquette had reported what others had said. That is false. No one at the May 9 meeting said that there was a “contract signed in 2010.” To the contrary, Selectmen Sundquist stated that there was, in fact, no “paper contract.” See for yourself:

Despite this, Mr Beeler has refused to issue a correction. He did offer to print this letter without comment, however.

To the editor’s great credit, he has published almost every one of my letters over the past year, despite our obvious philosophical differences, and I do thank him for the opportunity for this public forum. I also thank him for reprinting my letter the other week that had been accidentally curtailed the week before. I accept his apology and say it is unnecessary because the abridgment of my letter was clearly unintentional.

The Tuftonboro selectmen acted quickly after I raised the concern on May 9 that they had unintentionally over-stepped their authority by exercising power that is by law the purview of the cemetery trustees. In a hastily scheduled non-regular meeting on Friday, May 13, the selectmen discussed written communication from the town’s attorney, Rick Sager, who advised them to “divorce themselves from the Cemetery Trustees in regards to clerical type responsibilities,” according to the meeting’s minutes. No doubt Mr. Sager’s advice was based on review of the applicable state laws.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t present for the May 13 meeting, and there is no video recording of the meeting for the public to review because the selectmen broke with their customary habit of sending an email with a meeting agenda to a mailing list (which you can sign up for at tuftonboro.org). To be clear, the New Hampshire Right to Know law requires only that they post a notice in two public places at least 24 hours before their meetings; they have no obligation to send out an email. They met the letter of the law for their May 13 meeting, but since the meeting was held on a non-regular day, and no email was sent out, no member of the public, including the videographer, was present, other than Paquette of the Granite State News. I asked Selectman Sundquist on June 6th if, since the meeting was not on the regular schedule, they had simply forgotten to send out the email notice. She replied that the meeting had been properly noticed. I asked if they had decided not to send out the email. She stated the meeting had been properly noticed.

On May 19 the Granite State News quoted Selectman Bill Marcussen as saying, at that impromptu meeting, “The cemetery trustees have clear authority.”

I thank the selectmen for acting so quickly to set the record straight about which public body is responsible for the maintenance of the cemeteries. The Granite State News characterized it as the selectmen “ceding” power to the cemetery trustees, but this is not entirely accurate since the selectmen never had the legal power to cede in the first place. The cemetery trustees have always had the “clear authority.” The selectmen usurped the trustees’ power, but now that they have acknowledged as much, I hope we can all move on.

HB606 Passes Legislature; Awaits Governor’s Signature; Prohibits Charging for Electronic Records

Last week the New Hampshire House and Senate agreed to a conference committee amendment to HB606 that adds language to RSA 91-A (the “Right to Know” law) that clarifies that no money may be charged for inspecting or delivering (i.e., emailing) electronic copies of public documents.

91-A 4:IV No fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.

The bill now goes to Governor Hassan to be signed into law.

The Tuftonboro selectmen will need to update the town’s official policy. However, since the town has not been charging any fees for the delivery of electronic copies, in practice nothing will need to change.