Author Max LedouxPosted on
Carolyn Sundquist said today that she doesn’t know yet if she’s running for another term as selectman. Sundquist first ran for selectman in 2008 promising to be a “leader who listens.” More recently Sundquist has unilaterally shut down questions from reporters during meetings, refused to hold meetings at times when more residents could attend, and declared her incredulity at the idea that the public could offer any input of use.
The selectmen hold their meetings at 9AM and 4PM, usually on Mondays although sometimes on other days. Anyone who has a regular 9 to 5 job, therefore, is unable to attend the selectmen’s meetings if they want to. At their last meeting, I asked the selectmen to consider having one meeting per month at 6:30 or 7PM. Today the selectmen categorically refused to have their meetings in the evening. The reason they gave is that they didn’t think anyone would show up, anyway.
I believe there is a difference between not going to a meeting because you can’t and not going to a meeting because you don’t want to. And I have no illusions that if the selectmen’s meetings were at 6:30 then suddenly 25 people would show up to every meeting. However, if the meetings were at a more convenient time for most of the residents of Tuftonboro, some residents would be able to come to meetings that covered issues of interest to them. For instance, a resident of Eaglemere Road might want to come to a meeting for which the agenda included discussion of the paving of Eaglemere Road (which is a dirt a road). But if they work, and the meeting is at the selectmen’s preferred 9AM? Too bad.
The selectmen prefer not to have meetings in the evening, because it’s more convenient for them. Both more convenient in terms of their schedules (they are all retired), and because fewer residents are able to come if they want to come.
While Lloyd Wood and Bill Marcussen seem more open to public input, Chairman Carolyn Sundquist has proven time and again to be unwilling to listen to any input from the public. “What would come from the public that would change our minds on a vote?” She asked on May 24 of this year. “I don’t know what kind of input they could give us.”
I am collecting signatures for a petition warrant article to be voted on at Town Meeting 2017 to require the selectmen to have all of their meetings, both regular and work session, at 6:30PM so that more people could attend if they wanted to attend. Please let me know if you would like to add your signature. The wording of the warrant article would be as follows:
Article by Petition: To see if the Town will vote to require the board of selectmen to hold all meetings of the board of selectmen, both regular and work session, at 6:30PM to allow as many residents of the town to attend meetings as possible. The selectmen currently hold most meetings at either 9AM or 4PM, when the vast majority of residents are unable to attend. Holding meetings after normal work hours would be in keeping with the spirit of the Right to Know law (RSA 91:A), which states: “Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society.”
Carolyn Sundquist has shown little interest in conducting public business openly. In 2015, Carroll County Superior Judge Charles Temple found that the board of selectmen, including Sundquist, had violated the Right to Know law by illegally conducting public business during a non-public session and by holding a public meeting without adequate public notice such that no one attended. For the past six months, Sundquist has been practicing viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional, by allowing Elissa Paquette of the Granite State News to ask questions during selectmen’s meetings but requiring everyone else to wait until the end of the meeting, often after relevant votes had already been conducted, to ask questions.
The selectmen put in countless hours on behalf of our town, and they deserve thanks for their efforts. If they do not wish to hold meetings after normal business hours when more people could come (if they wanted to), then the selectmen can resign. The selectmen work for us, the people. They answer to us. They are not our rulers. They should hold their meetings when it is convenient for the vast majority of residents to attend, not when it is convenient for the selectmen.
Chairman Carolyn Sundquist today announced that the selectmen will no longer allow questions from reporters during their meetings. This is a reversal of their previous policy. Elissa Paquette, the reporter for the Granite State News, has been allowed by the selectmen to ask questions during meetings. On June 20, 2016, Sundquist stated that Paquette was allowed to ask questions because she was “the reporter.” The change in policy is a direct result of a letter I wrote to the selectmen last week informing them that I am a reporter and that I would be asking questions during the meetings just as Paquette did.
Sundquist made the announcement toward the end of today’s meeting, after Paquette had already left. Paquette, however, made no attempt to ask questions while she was in attendance. It appears she might have been told of the new policy in advance.
Sundquist said that the decision was hers alone, and the three member board had not voted on the subject. When I asked her (during public comment at the end of the meeting) when she had made the decision, she reluctantly said that it was after receiving “feedback.” I asked who the feedback had come from, and she admitted that she had received legal advice from the selectmen’s counsel Rick Sager.
The logical conclusion is that Sager told Sundquist that if the selectmen allowed Paquette to ask questions during their meetings then they had to allow others to ask questions as well. In other words, the policy the selectmen have been following since March, which was to allow Paquette to ask questions but insist that everyone else wait until a period of public comment at the end of the meeting was, in fact, illegal. Had the selectmen continued to engage in viewpoint discrimination — allowing questions only from a friendly reporter — the town would have opened itself up to liability issues.
This is the second time this year that the selectmen have had to correct a policy after receiving legal advice from Rick Sager. Earlier this year the selectmen illegally paid Cory Hunter for groundwork in the town cemetery. Only the cemetery trustees, by law, can authorize such a payment. The selectmen knew this at the time, because Sue Weeks, the chairman of the trustees of the cemetery trust funds, had informed them before they voted to pay Hunter. The selectmen had been illegally managing the cemeteries, by their own admission, for years. After consulting with Sager, the selectmen publicly revised their relationship with the cemetery trustees.
Sundquist’s decision to shut down questions during meetings reflects her broader antipathy toward public involvement in town government. On May 24th, 2016, she stated, “What would the public say that would change our minds on a vote? I can’t imagine what they would say.”
The June, 2016, expenditure report for Tuftonboro.
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
September 2, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
The selectmen met with the NH Department of Revenue Administration to talk about gravel pits. They also discussed the possibility of giving town employees automatic cost of living raises.