Video courtesy of Joe Kowalski.
Using tuftonboro.net as a source, the Union Leader reported Thursday:
Following a 1-2 vote on July 24, veteran land use board member Fenton Varney announced his resignation and fellow members John Lapolla, Steve Brinser and Tony Triolo subsequently notified the town that they too were stepping down.
The issue came to a head after Chris Sawyer, who has served on the land use board since 2008 and most recently as chairman, received a letter from selectmen on July 11 thanking her for her service to the town as her term had expired.
She subsequently sent a written request to the board asking to be appointed to the Planning Board detailing her years of service, the benefits of continuity and her accomplishments, including streamlining the application process, making it more user-friendly and most recently spearheading the update of the town’s master plan.
During the July 24 meeting, a recording of which is posted on Youtube, both Varney and Triolo praised Sawyer’s leadership and work ethic on the board and urged selectmen to reappoint her. According to Triolo, Sawyer has always had the best interest of the town at heart.
The video of the meeting on YouTube was recorded by me and is available here:
0:36:05 CHRIS SAWYER
Requests reappointment to board
0:38:32 Fenton Varney speaks
0:41:25 Tony Triolo speaks
0:42:30 Lee Ann Hendrickson speaks
0:43:10 Tony & Fenton again
0:44:30 Steve Brinser: Why’d this happen?
0:45:42 Chip: “Tension great enough that previous vote happened.”
0:46:20 Guy Pike: Did you at any point in past year attempt to deal with this tension?
0:46:49 Sue Weeks: When did you make the decision?
0:48:00 Fenton: I never filled out a paper to be reappointed
0:48:28 Lee Ann: in the past I have prepared a memo on behalf of members who express a desire to be reappointed.
Lee Ann: Did you send a letter to John Cameron?
0:51:20 Lloyd: “in the lack of a motion let’s move on.”
0:52:35 Chip: we have to have a vote
0:54:39 Bill: Planning Board mishandled Master Plan survey mailing by sending it from General Store post office instead of using town office postage meter from Melvin Village
0:57:57 Chip: motion to reappoint Chris to Planning Board
0:59:10 Chip: Aye. Bill & Lloyd: Nay
1:00:00 Fenton resigns
1:00:25 Guy: “COWARDS!”
Later, during public comment, Guy Pike called for Bill and Lloyd to resign:
The video of the full meeting, with timestamps, is available.
Claiming that Chris Sawyer had “bucked the system,” selectman Bill Marcussen cited the planning board’s use of postage stamps to send out the Master Plan survey as a reason she should be removed from her position. No, seriously. She’s out because the planning board used stamps… to mail letters. (According to Bill.)
Chris Sawyer is scheduled to meet with the selectmen today, likely to discuss why they removed her from the planning board earlier this month. Chris was the chairman of the planning board and had asked to be reappointed to another term on the board when her term expired at the end of June. The selectmen decided not to reappoint her, however. Chris won a Right to Know case against the selectmen in 2015, when Carroll County Superior Court ruled that the board had violated RSA 91-A multiple times, including the improper use of nonpublic meetings.
It’s unclear when the selectmen decided to remove her, but she received a two-line letter dated July 10 signed by the selectmen informing her that she was no longer on the planning board. Her name has been removed from the planning board’s page on the town web site.
Steve Brinser has resigned from the planning board in protest and I’m told that John Lapolla also resigned. (Both their names have also been removed from the web site.) In addition, John Cameron’s term expired at the end of June, leaving the board with only four regular members — three of whom were appointed in June.
While the letter was dated July 10, the selectmen did not discuss the matter in public session at their July 10 regular meeting.
However, they did sign a “thank you letter to a board member.”
Chairman Lloyd Wood did not identify the board member they were thanking. The 7/10 public meeting minutes, which are in draft form at the moment, state, “Selectman Marcussen moved to approve a thank you letter to a board member, seconded by Chairman Wood with all in favor.”
Chris said her letter was just two lines long, and this screen shot of Selectman Chip Albee signing the letter midway down the page makes it clear that if it wasn’t the letter to Chris, it certainly was a very short piece of correspondence.
In order to have a letter ready to sign on 7/10, they likely reached a decision at the meeting on July 3, even though there was no specific mention of Chris Sawyer during the public meeting that day.
There was this exchange during the July 3 public meeting, however:
Chip: “Do we have a nonpublic for appointments today?”
Chip: “Are we having a nonpublic for appointments today?”
Bill: “I think we need to.”
Lloyd: “If you want, yes. We can have a nonpublic any time we’re [in a] legal meeting.”
By saying “for appointments,” Chip may have been referring to appointing someone to a board. However, at the end of the public meeting, the selectmen said they were going into nonpublic for a “personnel issue.”
The word “personnel” does not appear in the nonpublic meeting section of 91-A. The public minutes for July 3 read, “Selectman Marcussen moved to enter non-public session per RSA 91-A: 3 II (a) to discuss a personnel issue.” As you can see in the video, despite what the minutes incorrectly show, Bill didn’t cite the specific paragraph, which is a violation of RSA 91-A:3-I(b): “Any motion to enter nonpublic session shall state on its face the specific exemption under paragraph II which is relied upon as foundation for the nonpublic session.”
91-A:3-II(a) states “The dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him or her, unless the employee affected (1) has a right to a meeting and (2) requests that the meeting be open, in which case the request shall be granted.”
Chris was not an employee, so if the selectmen relied on 91-A:3-II(a) to discuss her reappointment to the board, then they violated the law.
Regardless of whether they discussed Chris during the 91-A:3-II(a) session, they are likely in violation of RSA 91-A:3-III, which states, of nonpublic meetings, “minutes of such sessions shall record all actions in such a manner that the vote of each member is ascertained and recorded.”
The minutes for the 91-a:3-II(a) session read only, “the selectmen discussed various personnel issues.”
Furthermore, 91-A:3-II(a) does not allow the selectmen to discuss “various” personnel issues, only the specific issues as defined in the paragraph: “The dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him or her.”
It seems likely that the selectmen either discussed Chris’s reappointment during the 91-A:3-II(a) nonpublic meeting, which would have been illegal, or they discussed it in a non-meeting, which would be illegal.