Max Ledoux Acts Like a Jerk

Speaking in his signature slow-as-molasses, nasally rasp at the Budget Committee’s public hearing on the proposed budget, Max Ledoux told Carla Lootens on Tuesday night that he didn’t think she was a “nice person.” This rude remark came after Carla attempted to steer the meeting back toward budget matters following a lengthy and pointless comment from Max about the town’s 10-wheel plow truck, which broke down recently as well as got stuck in a ditch.

“We’re here to talk about the budget. You know I love you, Max, but …” said Carla, trying to be nice.

“Well, I don’t think that’s true,” Max then said.

“I’m being nice, Max,” replied Carla, to laughter from others in the room.

“You’re not a very nice person,” said Max.

“Hmm?” Said Carla, not hearing.

“I don’t think you’re a very nice person,” said Max, which is not a very nice thing to say.

“Max,” said Carla sternly, “we’re here to talk about the budget, please.”

“OK,” muttered Max. Like a jerk.

 

Memo to Budget Committee: False and Defamatory Draft Minutes

To: Carla Lootens, Chairman, and Budget Committee
CC: Selectmen
Subject: Your false and defamatory draft minutes and utter lack of understanding of the Right to Know law

Dear Carla and the Budget Committee,

Your draft minutes for the January 2, 2018, meeting contained a false and defamatory statement about me: “It was agreed that the Selectmen would be the ones to decide whether to pursue Mr. Ledoux’s violation of RSA 91-A:5 further.”

You accused me in writing of violating state law. This was a serious accusation that I do not take lightly. If it had not been for Guy Pike, you would not have altered this libelous statement from “Mr. Ledoux’s violation” to “Mr. Ledoux’s possible violation.” However, adding the word “possible” in your approved minutes does not go far enough to correct the facts.

  • The Right to Know law does not apply to me. I am not bound by it. I am not a government employee or an elected or appointed official. It’s literally impossible for me to violate 91-A.
  • As I explained to you in my previous memo — in which I cited both the actual statutes and the New Hampshire Supreme Court precedents — the public has the Right to Know how much it spends on each individual employee. Withholding the information is a violation of 91-A. I understand that Carla disagrees with me and that she has a different opinion. But she has failed to cite any laws or court rulings, instead relying on a her “gut feeling” as well as a vague email from the anti-transparency New Hampshire Municipal Association.
  • Furthermore, it was not “agreed” by the budget committee that the selectmen would be the ones “to decide whether to pursue Mr. Ledoux’s violation of RSA 91-A:5 further.” Gordon asked, “Does it behoove the Committee and/or the Selectmen to pursue this? Is it a legal issue?” Carla said, “I think that’s up to the Selectmen.” There was then a brief silence. “Is it a chargeable offense?” asked Gordon, followed by another silence. The budget committee members did not, in fact, vote or make any decision on the question.

By the way, Carla’s repeated insistence that Joe’s videos are the only “official” videos suggests technological naiveté. A video is a video, and it shows what it shows. There is no Ministry of Truth in Tuftonboro where residents must go to obtain “official” news. I always post the full video without any edits whatsoever. When I can, I also post timestamps to make it easier for people to skip to the part of the video that interests them. I also sometimes post shorter videos and my comments. All viewers are free to comment on the videos or to offer their own opinions; my site is an open forum.

Many of the videos on my website are actually Joe’s; the viewership of his videos has increased since I’ve started sharing them online. I have great respect for Joe and his work—would the selectmen have started posting his videos online if I hadn’t done so first? The selectmen didn’t begin uploading the meeting videos to YouTube until after I’d been doing so for more than a year. Even now, Karen Koch is posting them only in half-hour segments, sometimes over a period of several days, which is not viewer-friendly. I offered to show Karen how to combine multiple video files into one; she has not taken me up on that offer, which still stands.

Gordon said at your last meeting that he “questions [Max’s] motives every day,” to which Bob added, “every day.”

My motives are transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility. Whatever Carla’s motives, her actions have come down on the side of secrecy, unaccountability, and fiscal imprudence. It is good that she is not seeking re-election.

Regards,

Max

Keene Sentinel Editorial: Monadnock officials owe district citizens some answers

Local government officials don’t want the public to know how taxpayer money is to be spent. It sounds familiar, but it’s not the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (Lloyd Wood, Bill Marcussen, Chip Albee) or the Budget Committee Chairman (Carla Lootens). This Keene Sentinal editorial from last month is about the Monadnock Regional School District.

Sentinel Editorial

Open, accessible, accountable and responsive: Monadnock officials owe district citizens some answers

Dec 12, 2017
Governing is difficult, tedious work, often not pleasant, but necessary. Those who give their time and energy to it are, generally, to be thanked. But there are those who revel in holding even a little power over their fellow citizens; in being on the inside, with information others lack; and in playing a disproportionate role in determining the course of our communities.

And sometimes, they get so caught up in that role that they forget why they’re really there, and that they serve at the will of the people.

“All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive.”

These words, from Article 8 of the N.H. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, are the underpinning of our state’s Right-to-Know Law. The purpose of the law is to hold public officials — both elected and appointed — accountable by allowing the public access to not only the results of government, but also the process. Thus, officials are bound, with few exceptions, to conduct official business in public, to answer questions posed by the public regarding their actions, and to make available any documents or records that would inform the public about the causes and effects of those actions.

It is the mechanism by which officials at every level of government — from the governor to state lawmakers to county commissioners to those elected or appointed to run our cities, towns and schools — must adhere to the principle that as the wording of the Constitutional passage above notes: All power resides in, and is derived from, the people.

The great danger of a government unfettered by such public scrutiny isn’t only that those in power might enrich themselves at the public’s expense or pass laws, rules and policies detrimental to the general citizenry (or specific subgroups) without opposition. Equally worrisome is that those in power might, if unchallenged, forget they serve at the public’s bidding and for the public’s benefit, not their own.

Which brings us to the Monadnock Regional School District’s latest flap — over Business Administrator Jane Fortson and the public’s right to information on her absence and, in particular, how the district’s finances are being handled during it.

Fortson, The Sentinel learned last week, was recently suspended, with pay. Inquiries to almost all of the district’s 13 board members and Superintendent Lisa Witte were rebuffed.

The Right-to-Know Law does give public bodies latitude in discussing certain personnel matters. Specifically, officials can refuse to reveal information that would potentially harm a person’s reputation, and they can refuse comment on disciplinary actions. Either might account for Witte and board members declining comment on why Fortson was suspended.

But those exemptions don’t extend to discussing the state of the district’s finances. So, when asked who is handling the business operations in Fortson’s absence — an absence that’s occurring in the midst of constructing the district’s 2018-19 budget that will hit every taxpayer’s wallet and affect every school child’s education — there is no excuse for not answering directly.

Yet board members have repeatedly done so, one even indicating she’s been told that to comment at all would leave her open to being removed from the board. And Witte has, after first declining comment, offered only a vague statement that acknowledges she’s ultimately responsible for the proper operation of all district functions “working with our competent and dedicated staff.” Well, we’d hope so. But that still doesn’t reveal who’s actually handling the $32.7 million in public money entrusted to the school administration.

One proper question for the board and superintendent surely is whether the suspension has to do with those public funds. Thus far, only school board member Neil Moriarty has been willing to comment on that, and only to say the suspension “has nothing to do with financial issues.”

More troubling still is the behavior of at least one board member, who gloatingly told a Sentinel reporter during last Tuesday’s meeting that she wouldn’t be able to find out anything, because the board had just voted to seal the minutes of its nonpublic session on the matter.

Such taunting, childish actions convey more than disdain for the reporter. They reveal a contempt for the public and its right to know how its money is being spent and how decisions regarding its children are being made.

What Carolyn Sundquist Knew

Click image to view email in PDF

Carolyn Sundquist knew that Tuftonboro selectmen could not legally charge an hourly fee for responding to Right to Know requests and that the town could charge only for “copy/paper fees.” She knew this long before she, as chair of the selectmen’s board, initiated a lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me in an attempt to charge us for inspecting government records. The lawsuit would eventually cost the taxpayers about $20,000 (and counting — I’ll update you next week).

In a February 2016 email the selectmen’s administrative secretary, Karen Koch, wrote to Carolyn: “In terms of town’s [sic] charging an hourly rate for any research to be done, it is illegal to do so.” Karen wrote that this was based on a conversation she had had with Margaret Burns of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, and that “the only things that towns can legally charge for are copy/paper fees.”

Indicating that she had read Karen’s email and understood its content, Carolyn replied on February 27, 2016: “Thanks for checking with NHMA regarding minutes and charging for research. Would you please redo the sheet that list [sic] the charges for copies in a compatible format for inclusion in the copy policy we just approved. Note the changes regarding emailed copies and whatever else would need explanation.”

Carolyn’s own words show that she clearly understood no fees could be charged for “emailed copies,” but she (along with the other two selectmen, Lloyd Wood and Bill Marcussen) attempted to charge Bob McWhirter and me 25 cents per page to inspect emails. When we refused to pay that illegal fee (given the number of emails, it would’ve amounted to thousands of dollars), the selectmen sent sheriff’s deputies to our houses on a Sunday morning to serve us with a lawsuit.

As a result, we were forced to hire an attorney, a great expense, and to defend ourselves not only in Carroll County Superior Court but also in the court of public opinion. Just last week, the selectmen’s attorney, Richard Sager, publicly slandered Bob McWhirter in a Facebook post on the Tuftonboro Free Speech Forum Facebook group, which any resident of Tuftonboro can join: “Bob tags along behind Max like a little puppy dog, impugning my character by suggesting I would ever consider hiding ‘SECRET’ information. Get a life.” Sager then blamed Bob and me for the $20,000 that the selectmen paid Sager for the lawsuit and asserted that producing the emails was a “considerable expense to the town.” This is false, and Sager knows it’s false. Judge Amy Ignatius ruled on August 8 that there was no cost to the town for producing the emails.

 

The above-mentioned email, which the selectmen finally turned over to me last week, strongly suggests that Carolyn (and maybe Lloyd and Bill as well) acted in bad faith when suing us: They were attempting to collect a fee that Carolyn knew to be illegal.

Carolyn, Bill, and Lloyd are responsible for wasting around $20,000 in taxpayer money. Bob and I exercised our constitutional and statutory Right to Know, and we defended ourselves when the selectmen launched an abusive lawsuit against us.

What Are They Hiding?

What could you do with $20,000? This past December, the Tuftonboro board of selectmen (at the time Carolyn Sundquist, Bill Marcussen, and Lloyd Wood) decided to spend what would end up being almost $20,000 of Tuftonboro taxpayers’ money on attorney fees paid to Richard Sager to pursue a lawsuit against Bob McWhirter and me for the “crime” of having made Right to Know requests to inspect government records. Our right to know what government officials are doing on our behalf is guaranteed by the New Hampshire constitution, and codified by RSA 91-A (the Right to Know law). I have that right to know, Bob has that right to know, and you have that right to know.

Rather than comply with the law, the selectmen chose to file a lawsuit against us — an action that is hard to interpret as anything other than an attempt to intimidate us and inflict personal financial harm. We are very grateful to the many fellow Tuftonboro residents who contributed to our defense fund, and also to our skillful attorney, Jim Cowles of Walker & Varney. The selectmen, bizarrely, filed a motion with the court to force us to reveal the “name, telephone number, address, and email address” of each of our benefactors. The court rejected this motion. Why would the selectmen want such personal information? I can think of no good reason.

The selectmen say that they were always willing to give us the government records — the emails. They just wanted to charge us a fee for them, even though the law states very clearly that “no fee shall be charged for the inspection or delivery, without copying, of governmental records, whether in paper, electronic, or other form.” Sager argued in court — unconvincingly — that this sentence in the law doesn’t make sense, because if read literally, it means the selectmen could not charge us a fee. Judge Ignatius agreed that the law, if read literally, means that “no fee shall be charged,” and she ruled on August 8 that the selectmen cannot, in fact, charge us a fee.

The reason this is important is that emails, being electronic, can contain a large number of pages. The selectmen wanted to charge us 25 cents per page, which would quickly turn into thousands of dollars. Records that you can inspect only after spending thousands of dollars are essentially records that you — and most people — will never be able to inspect.

Bob and I requested to inspect Carolyn Sundquist’s official emails because we and others in town suspected that she was making decisions about town business on her own (in violation of RSA 41:8), or with the other two selectmen but outside of public meetings (in violation of RSA 91-A). Our suspicious were confirmed when Guy Pike obtained 40 pages of emails concerning the Brown Road boulder fiasco. Those emails revealed that Carolyn had, apparently without the knowledge of the other selectmen, given Ted and Carol Steinman permission to block access to Lower Beech Pond, which is a state-own public body of water. The Steinmans followed Carolyn’s instructions and spent money placing boulders in the town’s right-of-way along the road. The current board then had to authorize the road agent to remove those boulders, which cost the taxpayers around $800. The Steinmans are now suing the town, disputing the boundaries of the right-of-way and alleging that the road agent trespassed. Perhaps they will win, or perhaps the town will win, but either way, it will probably cost taxpayers at least another $20,000 in fees to Richard Sager. All of this is due to Carolyn’s unilateral actions.

It makes you wonder what is in those emails Bob and I requested. Why were Carolyn and Bill and Lloyd willing to spend so much taxpayer money to make it nearly impossible to read them?

We still don’t know what’s in the emails. Even though Judge Ignatius ruled that the selectmen could not charge a fee for the electronic copies of the emails, and after eight months of legal entanglement, and almost an entire year after Bob first made his Right to Know request, the selectmen (now Lloyd Wood, Bill Marcussen, and Chip Albee) have, incredibly, still failed to turn over any of the emails that are in question.

Bob made his Right to Know request on October 17, 2016. The selectmen must comply with the New Hampshire constitution, with the Right to Know law (RSA 91-A), and with Judge Ignatius’s order. They must immediately — 11 months late — give us access to Carolyn Sundquist’s official emails.

Grunter Editorial Contains False Information

Tom Beeler published an editorial in the Granite State News today that contains several falsehoods and misrepresentations.

‘The Grunter’ • Est. 1859

FRANK CHILINSKI, Publisher THOMAS BEELER, Editor

Editorials, while unsigned, represent a consensus of the views of the editorial board of the Granite State News

Toxic Tuftonboro indeed!

This week we publish an Other Voices commentary on this page from Tuftonboro’s Barry Ennis. As he does fairly regularly in his letters, Ennis comes close to unacceptable disrespect in his criticisms, but we publish this letter to allow our readers to see how far the attack on trust in government has gone in Tuftonboro.

Please read his remarks and then continue here.

Mr. Ennis seems to have joined the small group of Tuftonboro residents who have committed themselves to find something – anything – they can use to foment distrust of the board of selectmen. They have sued the town, accusing the selectmen of violating the right-to-know law, RSA 91-A, as it applies to meetings. The result? The court found one technical error in posting a meeting and an error in judgment when the selectmen allowed a department head who was being reviewed in nonpublic session to bring up and discuss his budget, a subject that should only be discussed in a public meeting.

Carroll County Superior Court ruled that the Tuftonboro selectmen had violated the Right to Know law.

It was not brought to the judge’s attention that selectmen made that budget a topic at the next regular meeting.

That is irrelevant and has no bearing on whether the selectmen violated the Right to Know law. They did.

They have tried to portray the current selectmen as exercising control over cemetery maintenance and denying the cemetery trustees the right to manage it.

Because the selectmen overstepped their statutory authority and exerted control over the cemeteries illegally.

It turns out that years ago – long before the current board members lived in town, and likely even before the law relating to the duties of cemetery trustees was written – that all town grounds maintenance was done by one contractor as a matter of convenience.

That is irrelevant to whether or not it was illegal for them to make decisions about the cemeteries.

When the subject was raised, selectmen promptly turned the maintenance of cemeteries over to the trustees.

Actually, cemetery trust fund chairman Sue Weeks informed them they lacked the statutory authority to make payments for work done in the cemetery. They ignored her and went ahead and made payments they weren’t authorized to make.

They have made an issue of being denied the right to speak at meetings, when anyone can ask to be placed on the agenda to discuss anything.

Carolyn Sundquist has refused to put me on the agenda when she did not want to hear what I wanted to say about automatic employee raises.

They have asserted a right to ask questions and make comments at any time rather than at the end of the meeting.

This is a mischaracterization of what happened. The selectmen were engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by allow Elissa Paquette to ask questions at any point during the meeting, but refusing to take questions from anyone else.

They have insisted that the board hold evening meetings and promised a petition warrant article requiring them to do so.

I asked the selectmen three times to please have at least one meeting per month in the evening so that more people could attend if they wanted to attend. The selectmen refused, stated they preferred having meetings during the day. I will be submitting a petition warrant article requiring them to have evening meetings, but only because they refused to hold at least one meeting — not all — in the evening.

They have requested thousands of e-mails, clearly trying to find some misbehavior they can pillory.

Tom Beeler has no idea what Bob McWhirter is looking for, because Tom Beeler has never asked Bob.

They belittle the fact that someone has to do their bidding, implying that town employees have nothing better to do.

I have no idea what this refers to.

They also dismiss the right to privacy of those sending e-mails and want their fellow taxpayers to pay for their fishing expedition as a matter of right.

Emails are government records. The readers of the Granite State News might be more aware of this fact if Beeler had published the letter I wrote to the editor on the subject, but he declined to print it. Furthermore, the law is extremely clear that the selectmen may not charge people a fee to inspect government records.

That issue has now been taken to Superior Court, where the town is seeking guidance on how it should handle these requests.

The selectmen have sued Bob McWhirter and me, using the power of local government to punish us for having the audacity to exercise our rights.

Now they are trying to make an issue about a property owner blocking access to a road.

Ennis does not go to selectmen’s meetings

Perhaps because he works and the meetings are during the day?

and there is reason to doubt he has even viewed the videos of those meetings available at the library.

What reason would that be? Has Beeler viewed Ennis’s library record to see what items he has checked out?

The issue he raises has been discussed (by our count) five times in open meetings, beginning with the July 25 meeting.

Beeler does not attend the selectmen’s meetings, so he may not be aware that what Sundquist said during public meetings is different from what she was communicating in private to the property owners.

The board as a whole – not Chairman Carolyn Sundquist alone – has taken seriously the issue of blocked access and has gradually escalated its response to the point where, as we report in this issue, they have asked Town Counsel Rick Sager to determine who controls the right-of-way at issue and what actions the town can take.

Perhaps they should have done that before Carolyn Sundquist advised the property owners to “go ahead with placing boulders in the access.”

This is not the secret conspiracy Ennis wants to accuse Sundquist of perpetrating. He should not take the misinformation someone is feeding him as truth.

Someone is being fed misinformation — the readers of the Granite State News.

The people involved in these actions have failed repeatedly to demonstrate lack of openness in town government or even a refusal to respond to questions and requests.

Does this look like “a refusal to respond to questions and requests”? How’s that for “openness in town government”?

To us, the selectmen are trying to do the job they were elected to do, conscientiously and openly.

The intention seems to be to sow distrust of Tuftonboro selectmen in general and Selectman Sundquist in particular.

Why this misguided effort? What is behind the open animosity (evident in Ennis’s letter) with which it is pursued?

The selectmen’s antipathy toward public oversight is what’s behind the distrust.

Clearly there are personal grudges involved – one member of the group has at least three – but getting even cannot be everyone’s motivation. What is it?

I have no idea who Beeler’s referring to.

To us this all started when the selectmen openly supported the library trustees’ third effort to get a new library built and used library reserve funds to have conceptual plans done to present to voters. Yet it’s hard to believe that successful opposition to a new library is driving this effort to make mountains out of molehills.

We think it is time for residents to say “Enough is enough!” and show their support for the selectmen and their town.

In fact, some residents are saying “Enough is enough!” And the Granite State News is doing its best to malign those residents.

Emails Are Governmental Records

Tom Beeler, the editor of the Granite State News, added an “editor’s note” to a letter he printed two weeks ago from Molly Powell (my wife). He wrote: “What is being requested is not ‘a record’ or ‘a document’ but every email sent or received by the town—an estimated 11,000—some of which contain very private information that no one gave permission for just anyone to see.”

RSA 91-A:1-a III defines “governmental records” as “any information created, accepted, or obtained by, or on behalf of, any public body, or a quorum or majority thereof, or any public agency in furtherance of its official function.” This includes “any written communication or other information, whether in paper, electronic, or other physical form.”

And RSA 91-A:1-a IV defines “information” as “knowledge, opinions, facts, or data of any kind and in whatever physical form kept or maintained, including, but not limited to, written, aural, visual, electronic, or other physical form.”

That an email is a government record is not in question.

The City of Manchester, for instance, includes the following 91-A disclaimer in every email sent from the @manchesternh.gov domain: “The Right-To-Know Law (RSA 91-A) provides that most e-mail communications, to or from City employees and City volunteers regarding the business of the City of Manchester, are government records available to the public upon request. Therefore, this email communication may be subject to public disclosure.”

Indeed, the New Hampshire Secretary of State made a Right to Know request last month to the City of Manchester for all communications about a pilot program for electronic poll books. Essentially, the Secretary of State is requesting 18 months’ worth of emails. That is far more than Bob McWhirter has requested. The selectmen estimate that 11,000 emails would be responsive to Bob’s request, but this estimation has not been in any way substantiated. Bob refined his original request, however, drastically reducing the number of emails that would be responsive—11,000 was an estimate that is no longer relevant.

Tom thinks it matters whether the records contain “very private information that no one gave permission for just anyone to see.”

In Mans v. Lebanon School Board, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that concern for “invasion of privacy” should not be so broadly interpreted as to defeat the purpose of the right-to-know statue. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that “whether information is ‘confidential’ must be determined objectively, and not based on the subjective expectations of the party generating it.” (See Lamy v. N.H. Publ Util. Comm’n, among other cases.)

But Bob and I are not disputing whether certain parts of the emails we have requested will be redacted. The issue is that the selectmen are attempting to illegally charge us a fee to do the redaction. However, there is nothing in the statute that allows the government to charge a fee for the labor of responding to a Right to Know request. As Tuftonboro Selectman Carolyn Sundquist herself stated on October 17 in a Selectmen’s meeting and on November 1 in a Budget Committee meeting, we already pay the staff’s salary, and responding to Right to Know requests is part of their “normal work schedule.” That’s a direct quote from Carolyn, on November 1 (the video starts at 58:52, Carolyn’s comment is at 1:00:20):

Thank you to everyone who has very generously contributed to our legal defense fund. Through the kindness of fellow citizens, we have raised $2,215 so far to fight the selectmen’s lawsuit against us. The hearing is on January 27 at 9 AM at Carroll County Superior Court in Ossipee.

Is Tuftonboro Miserly?

The Tuftonboro budget committee held its most recent meeting on November 1. The board discussed a 2% “merit” raise and an automatic 1.5% “cost of living adjustment” increase in salaries for town employees. This is in addition to the 15% increase in the employee-compensation budget line, approved earlier this year. Keep in mind that employee benefits are based on their salaries, so employee benefits will increase whenever salaries increase. Have you had that kind of raise in your own job in the last couple of years?

Steve Brinser, the vice chair of the budget committee, is concerned that the town is raising costs: “We have people in town who for the past two years, they’re on social security, they got zero increase, but we continue to increase the costs to taxpayers, even though their income isn’t keeping pace with the increased costs.”

Carla Lootens, the chairman of the budget committee, replied that not many people in town fall into that category, whereas “so much of our money comes from” waterfront and island properties. She said: “Out of 695 waterfront properties, do you know that 459 of them are owned from people out of state? They pay taxes here.”

Bob Theve, a member of the committee, interjected, “I’m one of those people that, you know, is on social security, isn’t taken care of, and I have an option, if I don’t want to live here—I don’t have to live here. If I don’t like the tax structure, I can go to another town.”

Helen Hartshorn, also a member of the budget committee, stated: “I want to make sure our town employees are making a living wage. I don’t want to see them be under what a living wage is.” Steve asked her what a living wage is, what figure she had in mind. She had no answer. Town employees currently make, on average, about twice as much as the average resident in Tuftonboro. The median full-time income for women in Tuftonboro is $30,962; for men, it is $44,493. Average those together and you get $37,727.50. The average full-time town employee in Tuftonboro receives more than $70,000 in compensation. The fire chief, for instance, receives more than $46,000 annually just for his retirement and health benefits.

Rick Sager, the selectmen’s attorney, recently stated in a Facebook posting that he believes our town budget was “too miserly in the past.” This was in response to former budget committee member Bob McWhirter stating that Tuftonboro has increased spending by more than $800,000 in the past five years.

Do you agree with Steve Brinser we should continue to keep our costs in check so that Tuftonboro has among the lowest municipal tax rates in the state? Or do you agree with Carla that it doesn’t matter if we raise costs because “so much of our money” comes from rich out-of-staters who can’t vote in local elections? Do you agree with Bob that if you don’t like the costs the budget committee imposes on you, you should just move to another town? Do you think that a person bringing in $70,000 in total compensation is earning less than “a living wage”? The 2016 budget appropriation was $3,997,649.00. Does that sound miserly to you?

The next budget committee meeting is November 15 at 4PM at the town offices.

Carrying Pictures of Chairman Now

Regarding the issue of public comment at selectmen’s meetings in Tuftonboro, which is supported by many, including the “Grunter” as well as Hector M. Ledoux, I have this to say to the current chair of the Tuftonboro board and her authoritarian rule. Let’s call her Chairman Now.

That has a nice despotic sound doesn’t it? For local government, engaging in public intercourse should be a desirable and pleasant experience. Try it, Carolyn. You might like it. Why I would even bet that Marcussen and Woody would come to enjoy engaging in it also.

This post appeared as a letter to the editor in the November 3, 2016, Granite State News.

Tuftonboro Town-Employee Compensation

Last week the Tuftonboro selectmen voted to give town employees a 3.5% raise. This will consist of a 2% merit raise if the employee receives a positive performance review, in addition to a 1.5% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). The COLA is pegged to the Consumer Price Index of northern New England, which changes from year to year. Most people who work in the private sector do not receive an automatic COLA raise. But public employees are to receive these raises, in addition to merit raises. Selectman Carolyn Sundquist stated on August 15, “There is no doubt in my mind that anyone with a satisfactory [not positive] review will move up a step” in the compensation schedule — meaning that employees will receive a raise.

When I asked the selectmen whether town employees who did not receive positive performance reviews would receive a COLA raise, Selectmen Bill Marcussen replied yes. In other words, according to Marcussen, all town employees will receive automatic raises even if they do not receive positive performance reviews. Indeed, on August 15, Marcussen stated, “In an ideal world, we would always like to give people as much more money as we can.” After I pressed them, the selectmen conceded that town employees should not receive raises if they receive poor performance reviews.

As a reminder, what Tuftonboro spends on public-employee compensation increased by 15% last year, following our Town Meeting vote. It now totals $1.6 million annually. At the time, I suggested that if we wanted to give our employees raises, we should do so — but that we should simultaneously cut spending elsewhere in the budget. Carla Lootens, chairman of the budget committee, emphatically stated at Town Meeting that there was “no fat” to be cut from the budget. The 2016 budget appropriated 9% more than Tuftonboro spent in 2015.

According to the NH Bureau of Employment Security, the average income for an individual in Tuftonboro is $33,143. The average total compensation of a full-time employee of the town of Tuftonboro is about two and half times higher than that: $84,910.

You can request a public document titled “2016 personnel administration” from Karen Koch at selectmen@tuftonboro.org to see for yourself. This document shows that the average full-time public employee receives approximately $84,910 in total compensation. I’m using “total compensation” instead of “salary” because total compensation represents the cost to the taxpayer for each employee. For instance, one full-time library employee currently receives a $41,933 salary, but his true cost to the taxpayer is $59,533.50. During the meeting, I stated that the average full-time public employee receives around $70,000 in compensation. After speaking with Selectman Lloyd Wood during the meeting, I realized that I had erroneously included two part-time library employees as full-time employees.

In her article about the Tuftonboro selectmen’s meeting, Elissa Paquette wrote that my conversation with Lloyd about public employees was “not clear.” I know it was unclear to Elissa during the meeting, because she asked me to clarify—which I did. You can watch the video of our exchange judge for yourself whether I explained it clearly.

As I stated repeatedly at the meeting, I am not questioning whether any particular employees deserve the salary and benefits that they are currently receiving. My question is this: Is it sustainable for a small town like ours to pay our town employees more than twice what the average resident earns? And if we wish to do so, shouldn’t we trim the budget elsewhere to keep costs from ballooning over time?

This post has been submitted as a letter to the editor of the Granite State News, and should appear in the September 1, 2016, edition.