Minutes for the meeting:
Board of Selectmen
- ✅ Lloyd Wood: 295
- Robert “Bob” McWhirter: 248
- ✅ Thomas J. Young: 289
- ✅ Helen Hartshorn: 278
- Chris Sawyer: 233
- Barry Ennis: 196
- ✅ Daniel F. Barnard: 498
Trustee of the Trust Funds
- ✅ Dave M. Braun: 466
- Write-in Votes: 4
- ✅ Susan H. Weeks: 412
- Write-in Votes: 17
- ✅ Gordon Hunt: 461
- Skip Hurt (Write-In): 28
- Total Write-ins: 41
- Fictitious Characters: 2
- Undervotes: 59
Supervisor of the Checklist
- ✅ William “Bill” Rollins: 495
- Write-in Votes: 8
- Undervotes: 60
- ✅Yes: 410
- No: 133
These numbers are accurate to the best of my knowledge.
Gordon Hunt, library trustees’ chairman, informed the selectmen this morning that the trustees had met yesterday and voted unanimously that the library-addition warrant article should be tabled at Town Meeting.
Let’s play out the logic of what the Selectmen appear to be recommending at this point.
- Let’s say that 600 people attend Town Meeting, and 2/3 of them vote yes on the proposed million-dollar loan for the library addition. The vote passes.
- The Selectmen post and then hold a public hearing on the proposed million-dollar loan for the library.
- On April 14, the Selectmen hold a second, “special” Town Meeting, at which they ask voters to “ratify” the yes vote recorded on March 14. 300 voters show up this time. 199 vote to ratify, and 101 of them vote not to ratify. The ratification requires 2/3 approval, so it fails because it falls 1 vote short. The 101 people who voted “no” have now overturned the will of the 400 voters on March 14 who voted yes.
What’s key here is that, in having the special Town Meeting, the Selectmen are asking voters merely to “ratify” the earlier vote, because NH law (RSA 31:5) states that money articles cannot be voted on at special meetings unless at least half the registered voters cast ballots at that special Town Meeting.
What is legally dubious is the Selectmen’s contention that the library vote on March 14 would, in fact, be an appropriations vote, and that the later vote in April would merely be ratification. But the town cannot legally hold an appropriations vote for an amount in excess of $100,000 unless the town has held a prior public hearing on the matter.
It appears that the Selectmen have not yet received legal advice from the state — the New Hampshire Municipal Association is not a state body. I believe they are getting legal advice Monday, and I hope they will share that, as far as possible, with Tuftonboro residents.
I’m about ready to propose a new law urging all elected officials to dispense with the phrases “mistakes are made” and “mistakes were made.”
At the 2PM meeting Friday at the Town Office, to discuss the current mess over the library-loan proposal, Carla Lootens said, “Mistakes are made.” This is not the first time Carla has used the passive voice when discussing mistakes that town officials have made. The question is: WHO made the mistake? If I may put on my grammar-nerd hat for a minute: The passive construction is a “tell” signifying that the speaker prefers to obfuscate who did what. Didn’t many of us learn in English class to generally steer clear of the passive voice, precisely because it’s often vague and confusing? (I still enjoy my Strunk and White style guide.)
For me, the problem is not that people make mistakes. Carla is right: Of course we all do. It’s a given. What matters is how we own up to them, apologize, course-correct, and move on. The first step is saying, “Man, I messed up. Darn. Sorry! Let me try to make amends.” Maybe you could even say, “Wow, thanks for catching what we overlooked. You’ve probably spared us some headache later.”
Forgetting to have a public hearing to discuss the proposed million-dollar loan, as the law requires, is not a minor glitch; that loan for the library is by far the biggest issue to come under discussion at Town Meeting this year. The library renovation (or replacement) has been a contentious issue for more than a decade, generating diverse and heated opinions. I believe that the Selectmen simply forgot to schedule and post a hearing, and that their error was not malicious or intentional.
But I’m troubled that they seem to be spinning it as no big deal — fixed in just a few easy-peasy steps. Even yesterday, Lloyd said, “We followed the RSA’s.” NO: The Selectmen did NOT follow the RSA’s. The law requires a public bond hearing, held in the presence of the governing board (i.e., the Selectmen), before the Town Meeting votes on the proposed million-dollar bond.
I get the sense that a number of people at the Friday-afternoon meeting, as well as a number of concerned Tuftonboro residents, are not quite processing this. The prior hearing is not optional. Chip said that he’d been thinking that it made more sense to have a the public hearing after the vote, when the Selectmen could provide more details about interest rates, which bank the town will use, etc. Carla agreed that this made perfect sense. But it doesn’t matter that Chip and Carla think this makes perfect sense: It does not comply with the law. Which is why, Wolfeboro for instance, on January 4 of this year, had a properly noticed public hearing on its library article.
p.s. I’d never actually support any law that banned the phrase “mistakes were made,” because I highly value free speech. People are free to talk like buck-passing bureaucrats if they wish to do so.
We’re in a pickle here in town because the Selectmen failed to hold a statutorily required public hearing on the $1 million bond/note (i.e., loan) that is needed for the library renovation project.
If, on March 14 at Town Meeting, the Selectmen and Town Moderator hold a vote on the library-addition article, that vote will have no legal bearing. It cannot, because there has been no prior public hearing. Without a prior, public hearing on the bond — WHICH IS REQUIRED BY LAW — the vote on the bond is not actionable.
The selectmen want to hold the public hearing on the loan after Town Meeting, even though the law requires the hearing to be held “at least 15 days, but not more than 60 days prior” to Town Meeting. Then they want to convene a special Town Meeting in April to vote — for real this time — on the library-addition article.
What the Selectmen didn’t say during this afternoon’s meeting is that a special, second Town Meeting cannot appropriate (i.e., decide to spend) any money unless the total number of ballots cast at the special Town Meeting is at least 1/2 the number of registered voters at the most recent, previous annual election. Perhaps the selectmen didn’t mention this because they don’t know about it.
Here is the relevant statute (emphasis added):
RSA 31:5 At Special Meetings. –
I. (a) No money shall be raised or appropriated or shall any appropriation previously made be reduced or rescinded at any special town meeting except by vote by ballot, nor unless the ballots cast at such meeting shall be equal in number to at least 1/2 of the number of legal voters borne on the checklist of the town entitled to vote at the annual or biennial election next preceding such special meeting; and such checklist, corrected according to law, shall be used at any meeting upon the request of 10 legal voters of the town. This section shall not apply to money to be raised for the public defense or any military purpose in time of war.
The phrase, “election next preceding such special meeting” is a little confusing at first. Does it mean “the next” election or the “preceding” election? What it means is the most recent — the closest — election that preceded the special election.
There were 1,973 registered voters at last year’s town election, according to the supervisors of the checklist. For the sake of argument, let us say that the same number of voters are on the checklist (i.e., voter roll) this year.
In order to pass the library-addition article at a special Town Meeting, at least 987 ballots would have to be cast.
Note that the requirement is 1/2 ballots cast, not voters in attendance.
I can tell you right now that I would attend such a special Town Meeting, but I would not cast a ballot, and I would implore anyone else in attendance who opposed the the library addition to also not cast a ballot.
So, practically speaking, if all of the Nay voters withheld their ballots, then 987 votes would have to be cast in favor in order for the article to pass.
It’s quite obvious why a special Town Meeting cannot legally raise or appropriate amounts of money (or reduce or rescind already appropriated money) unless the total ballots cast are at least equal to 1/2 the number of registered voters.
Absent that requirement, a very small number of voters could show up at the special Town Meeting and completely subvert the will of the regular Town Meeting. For instance, if 3o people showed up; it would take only 21 of them to reverse what 350 voters had decided the month before at the regular Town Meeting.
At the regular Town Meeting in 2015, the last time there was a warrant article for a new, $2.3 million library, there were 536 total ballots cast on the library article.¹
It is not realistic to believe that nearly a thousand ballots — almost twice as many as in 2015 — would be cast at a special Town Meeting.
- For that warrant article, there was a public bond/note hearing prior to Town Meeting, as required by law, on February 9, 2015.