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

Selectmen Vote to Increase Public Employee Salaries

The Selectmen voted unanimously to peg the public employee pay schedule to the consumer price index (CPI) for northern New England put out by the federal bureau of labor statistics. The schedule of raises is currently set out in 2% steps. Under the selectmen’s scheme, the schedule will be adjusted each year. This year the CPI shows a 1.5% increase in inflation. That means that any public employee receiving a raise will get a 3.5% raise. 2% under the pay schedule and 1.5% as a cost of living adjustment raise (COLA).

In public comment I asked if public employees would receive a COLA even if they did not receive a merit-based 2% raise. At first, selectman Bill Marcussen said yes, that all town employees would receive an automatic COLA raise each year, so long as the CPI showed an increase. However, after I asked a few more questions, the three selectmen clarified that only employees who receive positive performance reviews will receive raises.

Hypothetically speaking, if every public employee in town receives a 3.5% raise this year, that will increase the budget line for salaries by roughly $38,500.

The per capita income in Tuftonboro is $33,000.

Selectmen’s meeting for August 22, 2016

In a marathon 3 hour meeting the Tuftonboro, NH, Selectmen covered a variety of issues. They met with summer resident Tom Hall about a proposed crosswalk on Route 109 at 19 Mile Bay. They voted to give town employees near-automatic cost of living raises. They also met with Lakes Region Computer about updating the town’s computers. They also received reports from the fire chief, Adam Thompson, and the police chief, Andrew Shagoury.

Selectmen Refuse to Allow Public Input on Possible Cost of Living Adjustment Raises

The selectmen will be discussing a cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise at their meeting on Monday, August 22, although you would not know that by looking at the meeting’s agenda, which has no mention of a COLA. When I asked Karen Koch, the selectmen’s secretary why there was no mention of the COLA, she replied in an email that the COLA discussion was covered in the agenda by “Continued Business.”

The selectmen discussed a proposed COLA at their work session last Monday. At the time they tabled it saying they needed more information. Selectman Lloyd Wood closed the discussion by saying, “We invite the public to contact us if they have a question.”

I requested to be on the agenda for the meeting on Monday the 22nd, so that I could share my concerns about a COLA with the selectmen, but Koch told me in an email, “Selectmen will not entertain outside input during the meeting before they vote.” I pointed out that it seemed to me that Selectman Wood had invited public input. Koch replied, “I have asked again and the answer remained the same.”

Employee compensation in the budget amounts to $1.6 million, accord to Selectman Wood. That breaks down to $1.1 million for wages and $562,000 for benefits. A (hypothetical) 2% across the board increase to wages would represent a $22,216 increase in the budget for the wages line item. Wood was discussing a hypothetical merit raise increase for every single employee. Selectman Carolyn Sundquist said that there was “no doubt” in her mind that every town employee who receives a satisfactory performance review would receive a step increase on the salary schedule. Every step is a 2% increase.

Selectman Bill Marcussen stated that anecdotally he has observed that the cost of oil is down. Wood stated that he knew that inflation is less than 1%.

Despite this, the selectmen will apparently be voting on giving town employees automatic raises in the form of a COLA, separate from any merit raises, which themselves are virtually automatic, according to Sundquist.

According to the most recent information available from the Economic & Labor Market Information Bureau, NH Employment Security, the per capita (average per person) income in Tuftonboro is $33,143.

Yet the average income of a town of Tuftonboro employee, including benefits, is $52,131. Update: Removing the part-time public employees reveals the average full-time average compensation of a Tuftonboro employee to be $71,446

Keep in mind that the $33,143 figure includes the town employees who live in town. If the public employees were excluded, it’s likely that the per capita income for private sector workers in Tuftonboro would be less than $33,143, making the disparity between public and private even greater.

As a reminder, the Wages line item in the town’s budget was increased this year by 15% at Town Meeting. At the time, I suggested that if we thought that public employees deserved (collectively) a 15% increase that we should give it to them, but that we should find savings somewhere else in the budget. The budget was raised by 9% over what had been spent in the previous year.

Minutes from Selectmen’s August 1, 2016, Meeting

The draft minutes for the Selectmen’s August 1 meeting have been posted to the Tuftonboro town web site by Administrative Secretary Karen Koch. Here is the portion of the minutes that deals with the Lang’s Pong Road construction contract:

The Selectmen revisited the Lang Pond Road award of bid and invited Jack Parsons to participate in the conversation. Selectman Marcussen shared his opinion that his vendor choice is still the same. He reaffirmed that Integrity Earthworks is inexperienced in this area.

Selectman Wood shared his formerly mentioned research regarding RSA 447:16. His opinion is to let Integrity Earthworks add a bond if it is legal and acceptable or to reject all bids and redo the process.

Chairman Sundquist’s opinion stayed the same. She doesn’t feel that the Selectmen’s reasons are strong enough to not move forward with Integrity Earthworks if they present a performance bond.

Jack Parsons confirmed that no official prequalification process was done. Although, none of the applicants were on the State approved contractor list. His recommendation is based on experience. He researched Integrity Earthworks past projects but did not find any solid evidence of past experience applicable to this project.

There was some discussion about the bond requirements, bond amounts, and the low bidder’s confirmation that they would post a bond if required. Jack Parsons expressed concern that he doesn’t want to have to use the bond. Selectman Marcussen explained further that a bond protects the Town in the event of non-performance but it doesn’t get the job done in a timely manner. Selectman Wood added to this explanation stating that a bond is an insurance policy.

Chairman Sundquist doesn’t feel that the chance of non- performance is reason enough to not accept the lowest bidder. Selectman Marcussen feels the opposite as the lowest bidder doesn’t have any demonstrative experience in this area. Selectman Wood shared that he also doesn’t believe that the reason to reject Integrity Earthworks is enough. He is most comfortable rejecting all bids, and redoing the process. It was then discussed amongst the group that the only issue with redoing the process is that all bidders know the other offers at this point.

Selectman Wood made a motion to stand with the original motion of the original bid, seconded by Selectman Marcussen. Vote passed 3-0. Chairman Sundquist voted yes with hesitation. It was asked that Karen Koch relay this decision to Integrity Earthworks.

And during public comment:

During public input, Betsy Frago asked about Norway Plains’ responsibility in regards to the review of the Lang Pond Road bids as well as questioned if Norway Plains reviewed the Invitation to Bid packet. Chairman Sundquist confirmed that Norway Plains did make mention that a performance bond was not included on Integrity Earthworks’ bid but also didn’t know if it was required or not. The Selectmen didn’t know if Norway Plains was provided the Invitation to Bid packet for review. Chairman Sundquist shared that none of the people involved in creating the Invitation to Bid packet were aware that a bond was required until after the submissions were received. Ms. Frago also questioned why Selectman Marcussen was not available to attend the meeting Friday with Integrity Earthworks. Chairman Sundquist explained that Selectman Marcussen was originally available to attend but circumstances arose that prevented him from staying. Although Integrity Earthworks has not indicated that they would sue the Town, she asked if NHMA was asked if the Town can be sued for not taking the lowest bid. Chairman Sundquist responded that they did not inquire about this and this is a concern of hers as well. Ms. Frago also asked about the cost difference between the lowest bid and the second lowest bid. The Selectmen explained that it is approximately a $30,000 difference.

 

Minutes from Selectmen’s Meeting of Friday, July 29, 2016

The draft minutes from Friday’s meeting between Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist and Lloyd Wood and representatives of Integrity Earthworks has been posted on the town’s web site by Administrative Secretary Karen Koch:

Chairman Sundquist and Selectman Wood met with Steve Pacsay, owner of Integrity Earthworks and their estimator, Doug Phillips. (Selectman Marcussen was unable to attend this portion of the meeting.) Mr. Pacsay asked to meet with the Selectmen to express his concerns of their recent decision on the award of the Lang Pond Road project and to get a further understanding for the basis of Integrity Earthworks’ bid being rejected. He read aloud his email that he sent to the Selectmen. The verbiage in the bid requirements did not require a bid/performance bond for the project, which his company is willing to provide if required. He understands that when his company asked if they could add the cost of the bond to their bid they were denied based on the question of whether it was legal or not to do so. He expanded upon his previous management/supervisory experience in the heavy construction industry with degrees of difficulty, deadlines, and dollar values far in excess of the Lang Pond Road project. He views this project as a critical stepping stone in the growth and presence of his company and stated that this was considered part of the strategy when placing a value on this project. He expressed his confusion on the outcome of the decision made and is contemplating to what degree his company wants to pursue this matter. He asked that the Town research the legality of the decision that was made prior to final contract award. Integrity Earthworks feels strongly that the fair thing to do would be to reject all bids, revise the bid requirements and restart the bid process.

Chairman Sundquist expressed her agreement with Mr. Pacsay and explained that this is why she voted against awarding the bid to LA Drew. She proceeded to read aloud Selectman Marcussen’s statement. His primary reason for not supporting award of the contract to the lowest bidder is that he doesn’t believe that the low bid is “responsible.” Doug Phillips responded by stating that no pre-qualifications were asked for as part of the process therefore all bidders had to assume that they were qualified. Mr. Phillips went on to explain that 25% of their business is in much larger commercial projects and their bid form references such. They feel that they are very qualified for this project. Mr. Phillips commented that Selectman Wood stated that the RSA was clear on the requirements of a performance bond over $35,000 but didn’t know of a solution without redoing the paperwork. Mr. Phillips feels that the process should be redone and a pre-qualification process done for each bidder. Mr. Pacsay explained that he is aware of the perceived capacity of his business within the community, so when he knew that his company had the low bid he reached out to Jack Parsons twice (as well as Norway Plains) and asked to meet with him and the Selectmen, if necessary, and it was denied both times, stating that there was no need to do so. Mr. Pacsay expanded on his past experiences of large responsibility pertinent to this type of project.

Selectman Wood thanked them for stepping forward and complimented Mr. Phillips in terms of acting as their agent. He feels it is important to stay fair and open. He spoke of RSA 447:16 and the notes of the decisions that were made in terms of this RSA, particularly #4 Bond-Generally, given that a general contractor was required to obtain a bond under RSA 447:16, which bond stated that if there are conflicts between the terms of the understanding and the statute, the statute should be resolved in favor of the statute and #7 Bond Provisions, this section did not require the terms of the bond required to be read into a contract with the Town. His reiterated his duty is to follow the letter and spirit of the law. He said that the Town cannot, after putting one set of specifications out to bid, decide to accept a bid and then calculate it differently. Although he confirmed that they can be rejected legally. He also read aloud the minutes of the July 26, 2016 meeting where Mr. Phillips noted that they feel that their interpretation of the bid form should not slow the process of the project and they are happy to accept the Board’s decision without recourse or any question. Mr. Pacsay acknowledged this.

Chairman Sundquist read the motion that was made by Selectman Marcussen at the July 26th meeting bringing attention to the point that the motion made was not a result of the bond not being included.

Selectman Wood moved that the Selectmen reconsider their actions taken in terms of awarding the Lang Pond Road project, seconded by Chairman Sundquist. Vote passed 2-0. The Selectmen will reconsider their decision at their Monday morning meeting.

Mr. Pacsay stated that he is not asking that his company gets the job. He is just asking that the Town redoes the bid process and makes the bid process clear.

(Emphasis added.)

Acknowledging Error, Selectmen Vote to Reconsider Lang’s Pond Road Contract

“We erred,” said selectman Carolyn Sundquist in a meeting today with Integrity Earthworks. “We don’t know all the RSAs [state laws].”

Steve Pacsay, president of Integrity Earthworks of Wolfeboro, had requested today’s meeting after the selectmen rewarded the Lang’s Pong Road contract to LA Drew in an emergency meeting on Tuesday morning. The selectmen rejected Integrity Earthworks’ bid because it did not include a security bond. However, the bid instructions stated a bond was not required.

Sundquist stated today that the selectmen didn’t know that New Hampshire state law required bonds on projects that are more than $35,000, until they saw an article about it in a municipal magazine last week.

Integrity Earthworks asked the selectmen to reject all the bids and solicit new bids. “I don’t want to sound like a sore loser,” said Steve Pacsay. “This not the first contract that we won’t get or will get.” His concern was that the bid process had not been fair. Integrity Earthworks, he said, would have included a bond if the bid instructions had required one.

Selectman Lloyd Wood made a motion to reconsider the decision on the contract. Selectman Sundquist seconded the motion, and then Sundquist and Wood both voted yea. Selectman Bill Marcussen was not present to vote. The selectmen will therefore reconsider the decision at their 9AM meeting this coming Monday.

Marcussen left before Integrity Earthworks came to meet with the selectmen. The full board of selectmen were present for a 10:30 meeting this morning with Meredith Savings Bank, which is taking over the Melvin Village branch location from Peoples’ United bank. The selectmen are looking to move town accounts from Peoples’ to Meredith Savings. When the meeting with Meredith Savings finished at about 11:20, Marcussen left.

Marcussen had been the most vocal opponent of awarding the contract to Integrity Earthworks. It’s unclear why he did not stay for the scheduled 11:30 meeting with Integrity Earthworks.