Selectmen Discuss Police Building, Library

met with Police Chief Andrew Shagoury this morning to hear his thoughts about a new police building. Chief Shagoury said he would prefer to wait and put more money into the police department facility capital reserve fund, rather than move for a warrant article at the next Town Meeting for the construction of a new facility. He noted that if the town has the money in hand to spend on a building project, then Town Meeting can authorize the expenditure with a 50% vote. However, if a loan is required, then a 2/3 vote will be required. A 2014 study concluded that a new, standalone police building would cost just over $1,000,000. The police department facility capital reserve fund had approximately $332,350.39 in it as of December 2015, and the 2016 Town Meeting authorized the addition of $50,000 to the fund, bringing the balance to approximately $382,350.39. (It is an interest bearing account, so the exact balance as of today will be slightly higher.)

Chief Shagoury said he did not think that expanding the current police offices at the town office would be a good idea. There wouldn’t be significant cost savings in his opinion and it would be difficult to have construction going on at the town offices. He would prefer a new building on a new location.

Selectman Carolyn Sundquist said that the new library building warrant would likely not come back for a vote at Town Meeting until 2018, so the police department facility capital reserve would have two more years of putting money away.

Selectman Lloyd Wood said that in his mind and many people’s the police building is linked to the library. Sundquist said she didn’t want to bring the warrant up without enough money in the capital reserve fund because the warrant would fail. My notes don’t tell me if she meant the warrant for the library or for the police building, but she stated twice during the meeting that she didn’t think the library would come back for a vote until 2018.

Wood said he very strongly would like the new police building to be located near the library and the elementary school. He stated that when he was police chief in Auburn, New Hampshire, he worked two cases that involved the deaths of little girls. He feels that if the police building is close to the school and library it will send a message to “all the creeps, perverts, and pedophiles.” He said that was more his personal opinion than a statement as a selectman.

Discussion followed of whether there needed to be detailed building plans at this point. Selectman Bill Marcussen stated he didn’t think it made sense to have detailed plans before putting money away.

The general consensus was to put more money into the police department facility capital reserve fund over the next two years.

The selectmen also announced they will be attending the Ragged Island Association’s annual meeting tomorrow, July 9. They are meeting at the dock at 9AM.

Sundquist also alerted Marcussen and Wood that later this month they will need to discuss a memo sent to them by Clay Gallagher, the transfer station director, about cost-of-living increases in the budget for social security contributions to employees.

The selectmen had met for about thirty minutes in a non-public meeting prior to talking with Chief Shagoury. According to the agenda for the non-public portion of the meeting they were discussing “a legal issue.” After one point during the non-public meeting, Administrative Assistant Karen Koch left the room so that the selectmen could discuss an employee evaluation. Koch said she wasn’t sure if they were evaluating her or not. She also said she wasn’t sure if the selectmen wanted her to divulge the nature of the “legal issue” that they had been discussing. After about five minutes the selectmen called Koch back into the room for another five or so minutes before they opened the public portion of the meeting.

Selectmen Pay Rick Sager $210 to Tell Them to Follow the Law

rick sager invoice cemetery authorityThe Tuftonboro selectmen broke state law on April 25th by illegally authorizing a payment to Cory Hunter for maintenance work done in the town cemeteries. By law, only the cemetery trustees have the power to authorize such payments. The selectmen were told by Sue Weeks, who is the chairman of the cemetery trustees, at the April 25 selectmen’s meeting that the cemetery trustees were responsible for maintaining the cemeteries, not the selectmen. The selectmen ignored her and voted to pay Cory Hunter, thus breaking the law.

At the May 9th selectmen’s meeting during public comment I cited the specific state laws that govern the cemeteries, which clearly state that only the cemetery trustees have the authority to maintain the cemeteries.

Rather than simply read the statutes themselves and abide by them, the selectmen chose to seek legal counsel from their attorney, Rick Sager. According to the meeting minutes of a hastily scheduled, non-regular meeting on May 13, Sager sent them a memo advising them too “divorce” themselves from the cemetery operations. In other words, Sager clearly told them to follow the law. The selectmen have refused to make Sager’s memo available to the public, citing client-attorney privilege. They have also refused to allow the cemetery trustees to view the memo, even though Sager’s legal opinion obviously concerns the cemetery trustees in their official capacity as elected town officials.

For his advice to follow the law, Sager charged the tax payers of Tuftonboro at least $210.

His invoice lists .80 hours for “Email to/from Karen [Koch, administrative secretary] re: cemetery trustees, including legal research” for which he charged $140. In addition he charged $17.50 for 0.10 hours for “Email to/from Karen re 91-A issue (cemetery trustees).” As well as $52.50 for 0.30 hours for “E-mail to/from Karen re: how best to deal with legal opinions.” Presumably those last two were in regards to whether the selectmen would be required to share the legal memo with the cemetery trustees.

There is an additional charge of $122.50 on 5/18/16 for 0.70 hours for “E-mail to/from Karen re: 91-A issues.” It’s unclear if this was directly related to the selectmen breaking the law on April 25th. 91-A is the “Right to Know” law. However, I had asked Karen Koch in an email on May 17th to view Sager’s memo.

The taxpayers of Tuftonboro had to pay Rick Sager because the selectmen broke the law. $210 is not large in the grand scheme of things. However, it was entirely unnecessary.

The selectmen should have listened to Sue Weeks on April 25th. Not only did she tell them that the cemetery trustees, not the selectmen, were responsible for the maintenance of the cemeteries, she also told them that the cemetery trustees were meeting the follow week to review Hunter’s invoice. She also informed the selectmen that contrary to Carolyn Sundquist’s claim, there was no written contract between the town and Hunter. Furthermore, she told them that Hunter had down the spring clean up work without first talking to the cemetery trustees. Indeed, the last the trustees had heard from Hunter, last fall, he was not sure if he was going to continue doing the work, and wanted to think about it over the winter. Weeks then said that Hunter submitted an invoice April 8th, after the cemetery trustees’ April 5th meeting. Thus, the cemetery trustees had not even had a chance to review his invoice yet. In fact, the trustees hadn’t found out about it until at least a week later. Knowing that the cemetery trustees were meeting to review the invoice, the selectmen nevertheless chose to step in and pay the invoice to Hunter. By doing so, they broke the law. Rick Sager’s advice that the selectmen “divorce” themselves from the cemeteries proves the point.

At the May 24th budget committee meeting, while discussing whether to allow public comment, Carolyn Sundquist (she is the selectmen’s representative to the budget committee) said, “Could I just ask — what would the public say that would change our minds?” She also reminded the budget committee members that “the public does not have a right to speak.”

If the selectmen had listened to the public, in the person of Sue Weeks, on April 25th, then they might not have broken the law, and they would have saved the tax payer at least $210.

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

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.]

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.

Cory Hunter’s New Contract

Corey Hunter is charging $60 an hour
Cory Hunter’s contract is a public document

[Updated] The selectmen have signed a contract with Cory Hunter for landscape maintenance of certain town properties. The board of selectmen recently acknowledged that, contrary to previous claims by Selectman Carolyn Sundquist, no written contract existed between the town and Mr. Hunter for his services. As a result, the selectmen signed a contract with Mr. Hunter. However, the contract has no start and end dates, and contains no conditions.

According to the contract, Mr. Hunter will charge the town of Tuftonboro $60 an hour for the spring and fall cleanup. For other services he charges a flat fee. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the hourly mean wage for an individual landscape worker in New Hampshire is $14.31. It is unclear how the flat fees would translate to hourly wages because some of the fees would go to supplies, such as mulch, and toward machine maintenance and fuel. The contract does not define what a “cleanup” entails or how many workers would be involved, so it is impossible to tell without further information whether $60 an hour is or is not an appropriate fee. I contacted the town of Wolfeboro to inquiry about their landscaping for comparison, but I was told that they do everything in-house, not through a contractor.

When I asked who had drawn up the contract, Karen Koch, the administrative secretary, wrote in an email that Mr. Hunter, not Rick Sager (the town’s legal counsel) had written the contract.

The contract provides no protection for the town in the event of liability issues. It does not require Mr. Hunter to carry liability insurance and does not specify how the work is to be done. In comparison, the 2010 document, which was never signed and therefore never a binding contract, contained clauses that would have required Mr. Hunter to carry $1,000,000 in general liability insurance, as well as to obtain all relevant licenses and permits necessary to perform work on town properties. In addition, the contract provides to protection for Mr. Hunter. If for some reason the town were to refuse to pay Mr. Hunter for services rendered, there is no clause that would protect him in the event he was forced to sue the town for recompense.

Update: I updated and revised this post after I originally posted it. I should have written it more neutrally from the start. A reader pointed out that perhaps the $60 an hour will cover multiple workers. That is certainly possible. If the contract spelled out what “spring and fall cleanups” entailed and how many workers would be used then that would go a long way to explaining the reasoning behind the $60 an hour fee. Also, I did not intend to imply that I believed that Mr. Hunter should be paid the exact hourly mean wage as listed by the BLS. I meant only to illustrate what I thought as a huge, unexplained imbalance between the two figures. I do understand that labor is not the only cost of doing business.